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  • On a sweltering late-summer afternoon http://www.greenbaypackersteamonline.com/jimmy-graham-jersey , more than 6,000 fans trekked north on Interstate 29 to see the Kansas City Chiefs participate in a training-camp practice at Missouri Western State University.

     

    More specifically, to see Patrick Mahomes II participate in practice.

    The Chiefs' first-round pick in last year's draft, Mahomes is poised to begin his NFL quarterback career in earnest after the offseason trade of Alex Smith to Washington. He's the best hope of Chiefs fans for a homegrown star at the game's most important position since Todd Blackledge failed to live up to similarly massive expectations in the early 1980s.

    Mahomes carries the weight of an organization that hasn't made the Super Bowl since 1970 on his strong right arm.

    It's an enormous amount of pressure on a quarterback with one career start.

    "I mean, I definitely have a bigger voice just being in the starting quarterback role," Mahomes said, "but there are so many leaders on this team. There are so many leaders and so many guys that have stepped up. When you have a team of leaders, those are the teams that have success."

    The Chiefs had plenty of success under Smith, at least in the regular season, including back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history. But playoff success was maddeningly elusive http://www.dallascowboysteamonline.com/tyron-smith-jersey , and it will be that barometer against which Mahomes is measured.

    Make the playoffs? That's the bare-bones expectations this season.

    "There are high expectations," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, "but the important thing is that there are high expectations within the building and within the team.

    "They demand that of themselves," Reid continued, "and you felt that in OTAs and I expect that to continue. I expect guys to challenge each other. That's the way you get better, and we have great competition that we're going to play this year, starting with the Chargers. You get yourself ready to go and take that upon yourself as an individual. Let's start there."

    As the Chiefs begin turning their attention toward their opener Sept. 9 in San Diego, here are some of the keys to keeping that division title streak intact:

    GETTING DEFENSIVE: The Chiefs were 28th in total defense last season, and must replace playmaking cornerback Marcus Peters and erstwhile stars Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali. New cornerback Kendall Fuller was impressive in camp, but free-agent signings David Amerson and Orlando Scandrick need to provide some depth at the Chiefs' most suspect position.

    WHAT A RUSH: The defense would be buoyed by an improved pass rush; the Chiefs managed just 31 sacks last season. Justin Houston has struggled to validate his $101 million William Perry Jersey , six-year deal, and former first-round pick Dee Ford has been hampered by injuries. Both need to live up to expectations.

    "Would you love to have a million sacks? Yeah, I would love that," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said, "but the biggest thing to use is always affecting the quarterback. That is the key deal."

    HAPPY HUNT-ING: Kareem Hunt was one of the NFL's breakout stars last season, when the third-round pick out of Toledo had a league-leading 1,327 yards rushing. Hunt comes into the season firmly entrenched as the team's No. 1 running back, and his ability to run behind a veteran offensive line will be crucial to taking some of the pressure off Mahomes and the passing game.

    "To me, it's the same thing. I'm going to come out there and play football. Just do my job," Hunt said.

    ANOTHER NEW OC: The Chiefs are on their third offensive coordinator in five years after losing Doug Pederson to the Eagles Jay Novacek Jersey , where he won the Super Bowl, and Matt Nagy to the Bears. The new man on the job is Eric Bieniemy, who was promoted from running backs coach and should provide some continuity.

    SCHEDULE SITUATION: The first six weeks of the season should tell whether the Chiefs are legitimate contenders. Four games are on the road, including trips to the Chargers and Steelers the first two weeks, and trips to Denver and New England. Home games in that stretch are against San Francisco and Jacksonville.

    "I find it interesting that everyone always talks about, 'Oh, we have a really hard beginning.' These are all tough games," general manager Brett Veach said. "It doesn't matter who you open up with, who you end with. You never know who is going to get hurt and how this is going to play out. I know in this league, and coach mentions it every week Adolphus Washington Jersey , you win a game in this league, it doesn't matter who you are playing or when you are playing, it is tough. I think the schedule all looks tough."

    Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst doesn't sound too concerned about the heart issue he's been dealing with.

     

    Hurst took part in Michigan's pro day Friday after being held out of drills at the combine a few weeks ago. He was cleared for pro day, and he indicated he also had to deal with this issue back when he was a freshman. He said he was tested and cleared then as well.

    He did not go into details about his exact diagnosis, but he said he was a bit surprised he was held out at the combine.

    "I think it was just the fact that I had not had any testing done recently," Hurst said. "A lot of times the combine will play it safe."

    Hurst underwent more testing since then. He said he was confident he'd be able to play again.

    Hurst had 5 1/2 sacks last season for the Wolverines and was a first-team All-American. He is considered a top prospect at defensive tackle for this year's draft. His father played for the New England Patriots as a cornerback for seven seasons.

    Michigan said Hurst ran a 40-yard dash in 4.91 seconds , and Hurst says he doesn't expect teams to think differently about him after his health issues these last few weeks.

    "I think they're viewing me exactly the same as before," he said. "If you're cleared, you're cleared."

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