ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – A few months ago, the Kansas City Chiefs looked as if they'd be heading to training camp this week in much the same way they finished last season, with the same leadership and most of the same players.
So much for that.
While rookies and select veterans reported to Missouri Western to begin workouts Monday, the Chiefs held a news conference back at the team's practice facility to introduce Brett Veach. The former assistant to Andy Reid was promoted to general manager several weeks ago, filling the top job in the front office after John Dorsey was surprisingly fired after the offseason program.
Veach and chairman Clark Hunt have been off-limits to reporters during the traditional dead period between the team's mandatory minicamp and the start of training camp, so it was Veach's first chance to make an impression.
That may be the biggest change at Chiefs camp, but it's hardly the only one.
The big moves began during the NFL draft, when Dorsey – still in charge at that point – boldly moved up in the first round to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes III with the 10th overall pick. Mahomes is expected to take over for Alex Smith next season, so his grooming begins in earnest when training camp begins.
"I don't know if I'm that far away, it's more about me continuing to work and keep getting better," Mahomes said. "These veterans are guys that have been in the league, been around and have been very successful. In order to be like them, I've got to go as hard as they do and catch up to them."
He'll be joined by a cast of rookies that will be counted upon to help Kansas City not only defend its AFC West title, but make a deeper playoff run after a divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh last season.
Second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon is a raw defensive lineman who will be counted on to provide depth behind starters Chris Jones and Allen Bailey, while third-round pick Kareem Hunt could have an opportunity to challenge incumbents Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West for the top running back job.
The rest of the draft class will also be trying to catch the eye of their new general manager.
"In today's NFL, those young guys in some cases are going to contribute for you, so it's important they stay right on top of that," said Reid, who arrived at camp armed with a new contract.
Reid was pleased with the way the rookies progressed during minicamp, but he acknowledged the trick is to keep from backpedaling, "so when they come back we're not just starting from scratch."
Still, incorporating rookies is nothing novel this time of year. Every team goes through it. And the Chiefs appeared well-positioned to bring along their entire class slowly given the volume of veterans that were returning on both sides of the ball.
Then came another surprising move that left the Chiefs looking markedly different heading to camp.
Struggling to stay under the salary cap as they signed their rookies, the Chiefs finally resorted to cutting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to free up cash. The move midway through voluntary workouts raised eyes across the league – and may have been the final straw in Dorsey's ouster – while also leaving Kansas City with a young, largely unproven group of wide receivers.
Speedy second-year star Tyreek Hill and the rangy Chris Conley will be first in line to soak up the catches, but a group that includes De'Anthony Thomas, Albert Wilson, Demarcus Robinson and rookie Jehu Chesson will be trying to earn playing time ahead of the Chiefs' preseason opener.
"Jeremy called me shortly after he got off the phone with the staff here and just let me know he wasn't going to be here anymore, that we needed to take the things that he's taught us and move forward with it, that we know what to do and that we're ready," Conley said. "I told him thank you."
Conley insisted not much changed after Maclin was let go – "I think we're getting on a good page with our quarterbacks and our offense is moving at a good tempo," he said – but the reality is much has changed.
As training camp begins, the question is whether all those changes will work out.