KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On one practice field at the Kansas City Chiefs’ training facility Sunday, veteran running back Thomas Jones caught passes out of the backfield along with the rest of the team.
Over in the corner of an adjacent field, about as far away as possible, first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin slowly rode a stationary bicycle, his right hand heavily bandaged. The wide receiver did not accompany the Chiefs to Baltimore for their preseason game on Friday night, and coach Todd Haley has refused to discuss Baldwin besides acknowledging that he was injured during training camp.
When asked about a reported locker room fight between Baldwin and Jones that caused the injury, Haley referred to it as a “family issue” and declined to reveal any details.
“What I do know, as I’ve conveyed the last three years, most everything that happens within these walls is family business,” Haley said. “And I just think that’s the best thing for our team, and to become a real good team, I think you have to have those areas that are off limits.”
While Jones took part in the Chiefs’ entire practice Sunday, their first full workout since breaking camp in St. Joseph, Mo., Baldwin wore only his jersey and shorts while working out with a trainer.
He wandered the sideline during the opening drills, and then retreated to the stationary bike in the corner of the practice field, which he alternated with dragging a weighted sled up from end zone to end zone.
While Haley would not address Baldwin specifically, he remains optimistic that all of Kansas City’s draft picks will be able to contribute at some point — its marquee selection included.
“As I’ve said much of this camp, this entire group of guys, I have a really good feeling about this young group of guys,” he said. “We’re not there yet, we’re still developing, and I have belief, and I believe in really all these guys that are here. And he falls into that group.”
The fact that Baldwin is missing key practices doesn’t help that development.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide receiver was chosen with the 26th overall pick to help take some of the pressure off Dwayne Bowe. His imposing size and physical nature seemed like the perfect fit for the Chiefs’ system, but he came into the NFL with considerable baggage. He was arrested in 2009 for allegedly groping a female student, though charges were later dropped, and had run-ins with his coaches at Pittsburgh.
The Chiefs under Scott Pioli have been reluctant to draft players with character issues, but the general manager said upon selecting Baldwin that they were comfortable with their decision.
“We vetted this player and many other players that had situations in their past,” Pioli said at the time of the draft. “We talked to a lot of people on this, and we feel very confident.”
Baldwin and Jones were unavailable in the locker room after practice Sunday, and teammates sidestepped every question posed to them about the alleged altercation.
Wide receiver Jerheme Urban acknowledged the importance of building team chemistry, though, particularly this season. The NFL lockout wiped away the chance for teams to meet during the summer, and it caused a condensed training camp in which veteran free agents couldn’t even practice the first week.
“We look at ourselves as a family and we try to protect that,” Urban said. “The biggest thing is having that camaraderie, and you have to be together to build that. We missed the entire offseason.”
Fullback Le’Ron McClain said that the Baltimore Ravens, where he spent the first four years of his career, had one of the closest-knit groups of players in the league. That’s one of the reasons they’ve been consistently successful as a franchise, winning at least 10 games six of the past 11 seasons.
He believes the Chiefs will be able to develop a similar feeling over time.
“These guys welcomed me with open arms, I can’t say enough about them,” said McClain, who signed with Kansas City as a free agent. “But it’s true. It’s harder to build some team unity when you missed 40-some odd days of offseason work because of the lockout.”