June 12, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster (22) catches a pass during minicamp activities at the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
Most NFL players look at training camp as a necessary evil they must put up with before getting to the regular season. For three AFC West veterans they have to hope to make it all the way through camp.
Unfortunately for Kansas City area sports fans the MLB All-Star game and all of its corresponding events have come and gone, and now only the second half of the baseball season remains at this point in time. With the Royals essentially out of contention, this means that the sports focus can now be turned to football especially with the fact that NFL training camps open later this month.
Out of the four AFC West squads, the Chiefs open up the latest on July 28th while both the Chargers and Raiders open up a day before with Denver and Peyton Manning getting the biggest headstart as they open up on July 26th.
The majority of the teams have a fairly predictable starting lineup already in place before ever going through their first practice but you will hear the standard coaching rhetoric that every job is open to competition.
For a few select AFC West veteran players they will want to actually listen to the coach as their roster spots are not assured to them. So which players will need to perform in camp and preseason games to keep avoid being cut?
The No. 12 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft could be facing a major battle just to be the third string back on the Broncos roster this coming season. His 2011 season was a disaster as he lost the starting job to Willis McGahee and then he proceeded to tear his ACL in the seventh game of the season. His final stat line for the season was 37 carries for 179 yards with one fumble to go along with a single touchdown.
To make matters worse for Moreno, he was pulled over in February for a DUI while driving his Bentley with the license plate "SAUCED". In a move that may have signaled the end of his career in the Rocky Mountains, the Broncos selected running back Ronnie Hillman in the third round of this past year's NFL Draft. For the time being it seems that Denver will enter camp with McGahee as the starter and Hillman to be the change of pace back while Moreno will battle with Lance Ball and Mario Fannin for the third string role.
On the positive side for Moreno is the fact that he is still only 24 years old and his base salary for 2012 is a very affordable figure of $855,000. If he performs up to his draft slot, it would be hard for John Elway to get rid of him.
Here is another player coming off a knee injury that will have to overcome serious competition in training camp to regain his roster spot. The most accurate kicker in NFL regular-season history was hurt on the opening kickoff last season and missed the entire season which forced the Chargers to sign Nick Novak to replace him.
All that Novak did was set Charger single season team records for field goal makes of at least 40 and 50 yards while finishing the year an overall 27 for 34. Kaeding will be in the final season of his contract and he is currently scheduled to make $2 million while Novak is only on the hook for $700,000. One would have to assume that a fully healthy Kaeding should win this competition, but if the Chargers think it's a dead heat they may choose to go with the cheaper option.
It appears for now that McCluster has been moved back into the wide receiver position as he got first team reps in the slot position during OTAs. The problem with this of course is that he has previously been tried in this role without much success. He has essentially been forced out of the running back position with the return of Jamaal Charles and the signing of Peyton Hillis combined with the drafting of Cyrus Gray out of Texas A&M.
He faces stiff competition at the wide receiver position though as the Chiefs already have Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston locked into three of the receiver roster spots and Scott Pioli spent two draft picks at the position on Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway. You would have to assume that Wylie is guaranteed a spot as he was a fourth round pick while Hemingway was only a seventh rounder and the team could try and sneak him onto the practice squad.
Also everyone needs to remember that Terrance Copper is still hanging around looking to grab a roster spot due to his special teams play. The drafting of Wylie could especially hurt McCluster's chances of making the squad as it takes away a possible returning position on special teams. Due to his small frame there is no way that McCluster would be able to help out on any special teams coverage units which is something usually required of one of the final receivers to make a roster.
For now it appears that McCluster will need to make a quick impression on new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll if he wants to stick around in KC for another year.