DAVE SKRETTA,AP Sports Writer
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — It took Jon Baldwin a split second to get his big frame around the cornerback, and another split second for the Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver to flash open across the middle.
It was by the textbook, really. Exactly how Chiefs coach Andy Reid drew it up.
Everything except the catch.
The pass from quarterback Alex Smith zipped over the line of scrimmage and hit Baldwin square on the hands, the thud of it bouncing into the air met with a collective gasp — more like an “Ugh!” — from several thousand fans lining the hillside of the practice field to watch.
“You have to catch the football,” Reid said afterward Thursday. “In any offense in the National Football League, drops cost you, so you have to focus in and catch the football, particularly when you’re tired — sweating and tired. You have to catch the football.”
The problem the Chiefs have run into during the first week of training camp on the campus of Missouri Western is finding enough guys to do just that.
General manager John Dorsey ensured that there would be a legitimate No. 1 target for Smith this past offseason, when he signed Dwayne Bowe to a five-year deal. Dorsey also tried to upgrade the position by signing free agent Donnie Avery, who’s been a solid option when healthy.
The trouble is that there is precious little help beyond those two, and just about everybody besides Bowe carries along some kind of issue: injury troubles, a lack of experience, questionable size and, in the case of Baldwin, hands that sometimes turn to stone.
The Chiefs’ first-round pick two years ago, Baldwin has yet to flourish the way former GM Scott Pioli expected. He missed time during his rookie training camp after getting into a fight in the locker room with a teammate, and then struggled to make much impact on the field, seemingly playing catch-up all the while the Chiefs struggled to a losing record.
Baldwin looked poised to have a breakout season a year ago, but turned out to be a Pro Bowl talent in training camp only. Once the season rolled around, he again looked lost. He has just 41 catches for 579 yards and two touchdowns in his two-year career.
“He’s a young kid,” said former Bills wide receiver Andre Reed, who is helping out the Chiefs as a coaching intern. “Young kids really let things stick a lot long. He needs to learn that it’s how you come back the next play that matters. It’s how you respond.”
The Chiefs still hope that Baldwin, at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, can become the kind of wide receiver who can make catches in traffic while snagging balls in the red zone. They’re also clinging to hope with several other guys.
Avery has started to flash some of the speed that he was robbed of by a high ankle sprain during offseason workouts. More than once, he’s been able to stretch the field vertically — a rarity for the Chiefs in recent years. Dexter McCluster is looking more comfortable at wide receiver after splitting time much of his career at running back. But he’s also dropped a couple of easy throws, and at 5-8 and 170 pounds, he’s still answering questions about his durability.
The rest of the guys on the roster are simply fighting for jobs.
Junior Hemingway made some progress in the offseason, Rico Richardson had a good few days of training camp, and Jamar Newsome made a nifty grab off a tipped past Thursday that he took about 70 yards for a touchdown. They’re all competing with Terrance Copper, Tyler Shoemaker, Devon Wylie and Frankie Hammond Jr. for spots that could ultimately come down to their value on special teams.
“We have different flavors,” Reid said of the wide receivers. “We’re mixing and matching, kind of figuring them out. I just have to get a feel on what they do best and exploit that.”
Of course, finding out what they do best also means learning what they do worst.
Not that anybody around the team is thinking in such negative terms.
“We’ll be 110 percent. That’s why we’re out here, working to get the scheme together,” Bowe said with confidence. “We have a couple of days to get it right before the first preseason game. I think we’ll be up and running.”
Notes: OL Donald Stephenson, the top backup at both tackle and guard, will miss the first preseason game against New Orleans next week. He had surgery on his left little finger. … OL Tommy Draheim left practice with a concussion. … Pro Bowl S Eric Berry (hamstring) took part in the first 11-on-11 session before his leg tightened up. He sat out the rest of practice. . . The Kansas City Chiefs have signed cornerback Kamaal McIlwain and offensive tackle Mike Tepper to provide some depth during training camp.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.