Darn near the Chiefs’ full roster — some 85 players — trotted onto the field in St. Joseph on Wednesday morning, and this first column of training camp is about someone who didn’t.
Someone who chose not to.
Orlando Brown Jr., the team’s starting left tackle – and pretty much the only Chiefs player whose presence at left tackle doesn’t all go haywire, just as the Chiefs will try to convince you there are plans to emergency – is not there.
The most obvious victim of this absence? Himself.
We will see why. Or why.
First, the reason he’s out: Brown hasn’t yet signed his franchise offer after he and the Chiefs failed to reach a long-term contract deal, so he’s essentially enjoying the sole effect of remaining leverage. I use that term loosely because taking a stand, ironically sitting down isn’t going to help the negotiations – those can’t even resume until the end of the season. So maybe recovery is a better word. Or maybe he just has an excuse not to live the dorm life for the next three weeks, and why not use it?
Well, because for every day he misses, there will be work to make up for it.
For the team.
And for the individual.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid played down the psychology of such an absence – it’s part of the business, he recalled – but conceded the importance of being there.
“It’s mostly the new stuff,” Reid said Wednesday. ” It is what it is. He knows the old tricks. And then the reps – the speed of the game.”
There’s the playbook, which has undergone the necessary adaptations after the attack absorbed a bit of periodicity a year ago. There’s offensive line cohesion, a factor that helped the Chiefs rank among the top five offensive lines in football after a makeover. And then there’s individual preparation for NFL games.
The latter may prove to be the most trying for Brown. For the record, I don’t blame him for not wanting to pack his things and live in Scanlon Hall at Missouri Western State University in the heat of July and early August, but he’s going to feel the effect on the other end.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the trenches offer the most physical play in the sport, and Brown doesn’t get pushed around by NFL-caliber defensive wings at home.
Over the past few days I’ve reached out to professional coaches, those who have worked with NFL players in particular, and their conclusion is straightforward – whenever Brown eventually returns, don’t expect a smooth transition. for his body, especially after missing all of the team’s prior offseason lineup as well.
The NFL has imposed an acclimatization period at training camps — basically, teams have to ease their players back into football. Players don’t wear pads on the first day, for example. But by the time the Chiefs put those pads on, Brown will likely still be home.
That leaves more variables than answers, and it’s not the situation you’d prefer for the man tasked with protecting Patrick Mahomes’ blind side.
Brown’s conditioning will be a game of what if. One-on-one training with personal trainers offers a different benefit than working on the field with full NFL teams, even though they have the same end goal. After all, there is an adversary going full speed ahead. Much of an offensive lineman’s job is to react, which causes specific body movements.
Not prepared? This can trigger soft tissue damage. It’s not that uncommon for players during training camp, but Brown is shortening the window for a comeback before Week 1 arrives on Sept. 11.
He’s not participating in the fully padded contact drills that will arrive here at St. Joseph next week. The next time he puts on a helmet – whether in two weeks or a month – it will be the first time he has worn one in a competitive environment since the AFC Championship game last year. As one pro trainer told me, “His neck is going to hurt a lot.”
These are not certainties. But these are all possibilities. Things that NFL coaches have seen before. Things that those who work with Brown will no doubt worry about.
On top of that, there’s the soccer element to it. Even Brown admitted a year ago that he needed to “work on some things” during individual drills offered by training camp, his excuse for why he was regularly beaten by a speed move around the edge. He categorized these things as important, but that luxury is gone. And I probably don’t need to remind you that Brown is entering only his second full season as a left tackle after spending his early career on the right side of Baltimore’s offensive line.
It’s worth noting that the franchise tag is on a one-year deal whenever he’s finally signed, which leaves Brown playing in another contract year. It’s an important season, in other words.
On Wednesday, the Chiefs opened the camp with Roderick Johnson at left tackle. He hasn’t played a moment of NFL football in 2021. Reid said left guard Joe Thuney moving one spot to his left might be an option, but not right now. That’s because Reid and his team of assistant coaches know that the most likely conclusion to this situation is always Brown finally showing up for a game of camp. A fill, for now, makes the most sense.
But it’s not ideal.
Brown, as Reid said, hasn’t been through the Chiefs’ new plays, not even a dry run over the summer. He is not there to settle the details of communication with his teammates.
“Last year I felt like I grew so much through the playbook (with) my techniques and through training camp, because it’s 24-7 (that ) you think about football,” center Creed Humphrey said of his own experience. “You work on different things at different times of the day. I think that’s a huge help for us. And it really builds continuity on the offensive line. I mean, you’re with the guys every day, almost all day.
Well, most guys.
This story was originally published July 28, 2022 5:00 a.m.