Two weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs seemed to know not only who their wide receivers would be this season but also each of their neatly defined roles.
Jeremy Maclin was the No. 1, the veteran with good hands capable of stretching the field. Chris Conley was the athletic, emerging talent ready to take the next step. Tyreek Hill was the speedy slot man whose debut season was dynamite. And a group that included Albert Wilson, Demarcus Robinson and rookie Jehu Chesson would fill in the gaps, providing the Chiefs some much-needed depth.
Then came word that Maclin had been released in a money-saving maneuver.
Suddenly, one of the most stable position groups on the roster had been thrown into flux, roles now up for grabs in competition that began in earnest with a mandatory minicamp this week.
"I've never said we have a No. 1 guy. That's just not where I have ever been with this thing," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We try to mix it up the best way we possibly can."
That includes using tight end Travis Kelce and a strong stable of running backs to catch passes.
"A few years ago you saw Jeremy catch a lot of passes. Last year you saw Trav with a lot of catches and Tyreek with a few," Reid said, "so you try to spread it around and put pressure on defenses."
Still, there is a certain comfort level in clearly defined roles, not only for the wide receivers but for quarterback Alex Smith. He even alluded to the fact that he always knew where Maclin would be on any given play, giving him a sense of security when the pocket broke down.
Maclin's release also made life tougher for Greg Lewis, the Chiefs' new wide receivers coach. He lost a de-facto assistant coach in Maclin, someone who had been through the grind, and now must spend his time molding one of the youngest bunches of wide receivers in the entire league.
Wilson and De'Anthony Thomas, who have the most experience, are entering just their fourth years in the NFL. Conley is going into his third. Everybody else is entering his second or first.
"My job is the same. It's to coach the guys, and it hasn't changed since Day One," Lewis said. "You coach your guys regardless of who's in the room or who's not in the room. It's our job to get the most out of our players and to get them the information they need so they can go out and execute all of it."
By his standards, Maclin had a rough season last year. He struggled with injuries and drops. But he still caught 44 passes for 536 yards and a couple of TDs in 12 games, while Conley caught 44 passes for 530 yards without a touchdown in 16 games.
The Chiefs' leading receivers were Kelce with 85 catches for 1,125 yards and four TDs, and Hill with 61 catches for 593 yards and six TDs. But neither is a dedicated wide receiver – Kelce has blocking roles in the run game and Hill often lines up in the backfield.
That means the Chiefs will head to camp looking for wide receivers to cover Maclin's production.
"I'm still coming out here and doing what they ask me to do," Conley said. "I'm moving around to different spots, doing some different things that Jeremy was doing. Other than that, things are really the same. I think we're getting on a good page with our quarterbacks."
It's hard to discern much from 10 voluntary practices and a three-day minicamp, especially when none of them is in pads. Prospects deep on the roster, such as big, lanky second-year pro Seantavius Jones and rookie Alonzo Moore will have to make the most of training camp in August to stick with the team.
But Reid did say that Robinson, who played mostly on special teams last year, had turned some heads this offseason. The fourth-round pick out of Florida has made some nifty catches, has decent speed and can play big enough at 6-foot-1 to give his quarterbacks a reasonable target.
And Robinson knows full well that Maclin's departure is his chance to shine.
"It's always an opportunity for somebody to get better once another guy leaves the team," he said.