Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson will start the season on injured reserve, throwing a wrench into the team’s secondary just days before the season opener Thursday night against the New England Patriots.
Head coach Andy Reid hinted at a long-term issue with Nelson during a Sunday press conference Sunday but gave no signal the club planned to shut down Nelson for an extended time.
“We’ll take it day-by-day,” Reid said. “We’ll just see.”
Nelson sustained a groin injury on Aug. 4, and the issue caused him to significant practice time during the preseason. He did play in three of the team’s preseason games, sitting out the fourth game along with the rest of the team’s starters. The team labeled his injury as a core muscle problem.
Nelson’s absence leaves a gap on the right side of the secondary opposite All-Pro Marcus Peters. The Chiefs planned to start nelson at right corner, moving him to the slot in nickel and dime substitution packages.
With Nelson on the sideline, the team must turn to Terrance Mitchell and Phillip Gaines to man the right side and the slot. A hamstring injury slowed Mitchell most of the preseason. Gaines appeared to be in full health after struggling last season in his recovery from a torn ACL sustained in September 2015.
Nelson’s injury leaves the team with just five cornerbacks on the roster entering week one. The team has Kenneth Acker and D.J. White on the bench behind Peters, Gaines and Mitchell.
The team indicated it planned to designate Nelson for return later in the season. The team expects him on the sidelines for about six weeks, which is when he is first eligible to return to practice. He can return to the active roster as early as week eight.
The Chiefs placed linebacker Tamba Hali on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, providing the 12-year an opportunity to rest early in the season and potentially return at full strength for the second half of the season and the playoffs.
Hali underwent surgery on his right knee during the offseason in 2016. The knee kept Hali from practicing regularly last season, according to Chiefs’ head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder.
“We held him this summer and we’re going to continue to work with him in the rehab process and try to get his knee quieted down for later in the season,” Burkholder said.
Hali played all 16 games last season but saw dwindling playing time as the season progressed. He took the field for 42 snaps in the 2016 season opener against San Diego but played just 7 snaps in the divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh.
The veteran pass rusher in June used social media and interviews criticizing the team’s handling of his playing time and communication to him. When Hali arrived at training camp, he said he spoke to head coach Andy Reid about his concerns and he was comforted by the coach’s response.
Reid on Sunday indicated the team planned to work with Hali until he proved healthy enough to contribute on the field.
“I think it’s just a matter of monitoring and keeping an eye on him and letting him continue to rehab and when he’s ready to go, then you let him go,” Reid said. “For the time being just making sure you control it.”
General manager Brett Veach said the team has a plan for Hali in 2017.
“We’ve had the opportunity to talk to Tamba, his agent and Rick,” Veach said. “It’s one of those situations where we’re always kind of monitoring it and see where we are.”
The Chiefs’ initial 53-man roster carried just two running backs by design. The team re-signed veteran running back C.J. Spiller one day after releasing him as part of roster shuffle dictated by NFL rules.
The team planned to place cornerback Steven Nelson on injured reserve but first had to place him on the opening 53-man roster. That allows the team to designate Nelson for return from injured reserve later in the season.
General manager Brett Veach orchestrated a roster dance designed to keep Spiller while placing Nelson on injured reserve. He spoke with Spiller before his release on Saturday.
“As you know, C.J. being a veteran in this league, he’s not subject to waivers,” Veach said after Saturday’s cuts. “So there’s a possibility C.J. may end up on our roster.”
Less than 24 hours later, Spiller returned to the roster and plans to be available for Thursday’s opener against New England. Rookie Kareem Hunt expects to start against the Patriots with Spiller and Charcandrick West backing him up.
Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos returned to action for the team’s final preseason game and after a shaky start he pronounced himself ready for the regular season.
“I feel good,” Santos said. “I got some reps in and I definitely feel ready to go.”
Santos missed an extra point try on his first kick in the team’s final preseason game against Tennessee. He converted his next tree point after tries and also hit on a 48-yard field.
The missed kick followed a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown by wide receiver Jehu Chesson. The sudden score meant Santos didn’t have an opportunity to go through his normal routine for preparing to make a kick.
“I’m a rhythm guy,” Santos said. “I need to kick balls into the net before I go out on the field. I didn’t feel good.”
The Chiefs appear comfortable with the progress of Santos. They released kicker Sam Ficken, who filled in for Santos during his absence. Ficken handled kickoffs in the final preseason game, but Santos says he’s ready to handle all kicking duties.
“I think I’m ready,” Santos said. “Usually field goals take more because of the timing,”
The Chiefs signed eight players to their initial practice squad, including rookie wide receivers Marcus Kemp and Gehrig Dieter.
The rookie pass catchers impressed during offseason practices and training camp while working with fellow rookie Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Both players quickly worked their way into the second-team offense during the preseason.
Kemp, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 210-pound receiver from Hawaii, finished the preseason with a team-high six catches for 56 yards a touchdown. Gehrig, a 6-foot, 2-inch, 208-pound wide receiver from Alabama, caught four passes for 58 yards.
The Chiefs also signed Damien Mama, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 342-pound offensive guard from Southern California. His USC teammate, safety Leon McQuay, also signed with the practice squad. The team selected McQuay in the sixth round of this year’s draft. He was the team’s only one of six draft picks not to make the 53-man roster.
The team also signed tight end Orson Charles, offensive lineman Joseph Cheek, running back Devine Redding and linebacker Marcus Rush.
The Chiefs have two open spots remaining on its practice squad.
NOTES: RB Spencer Ware underwent surgery Friday in Dallas for a torn posterior cruciate ligament and damage to the posterolateral corner in his right knee. Ware faces an extensive rehab for a multi-ligament tear. He’s schedule to return to Kansas City next week to start rehab. … LB Dadi Nicolas will start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list. The team’s training staff believes he’s getting closer to a return from a patella tendon rupture sustained in the season finale last year. … S Eric Berry said he feels ready to play after sitting out all four of the team’s preseason game with a sore heel. He said the issue would not prevent him from playing in a regular season game. … LB Derrick Johnson says he’s excited to see how he plays Thursday night in the preseason opener against New England. He’s returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon last December but feel he’s back where he left off physically, but needs games and snaps to test his condition. … OL Jordan Devey was bit of a surprise in making the 53-man roster but his inclusion makes sense with the team’s injury issues and experience.
LG Parker Ehinger expects to miss the first few weeks of the season, and T Cameron Erving arrived just a few days ago from Cleveland in a trade. That leaves OL Zach Fulton as a super sub capable of playing all five positions and Devey providing depth at the guard and center positions. … LB Tanoh Kpassagnon officially made the switch on the team’s roster and depth chart to linebacker. The team had listed the athletic 6-foot, 7-inch rookie as a defensive end, and he mostly played as a edge lineman early in training camp. He still occasionally lines up in a down position on the end, but Kpassagnon spends his practice time working out with the team’s outside linebackers and edge rushers. … T Cameron Erving arrived in Kansas City following a trade in which the Chiefs sent a 2018 fifth-round pick to Cleveland for the third-year lineman.
Erving played mostly guard and center during his two years with the Browns, but the Chiefs believe the 2015 first-round pick profiles as a swing tackle. The team’s scouts believe Erving found himself miscast in Cleveland and they have identified issues with his technique they believe can be corrected. … CB Ashton Lampkin will sit out his rookie season on injured reserve. The undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State suffered a torn ACL in a non-contact injury in the team’s indoor training facility last week. He will undergo season-ending surgery Sept. 11. … LB Reggie Ragland, acquired via a trade with Buffalo last week, expects to ease into the Chiefs lineup as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in August 2016. The team expects Ragland to continue his rehab and make a gradually return to the field. They hope he can return to the form as a key contributor in the second half of the season.