KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs open the 2019 preseason Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, and there are more than a few compelling story lines to watch that will influence how the rest of the preseason plays out.
The first game is mostly about knocking off rust for the starters while allowing second and third teamers to stake their claims to jobs. The first team with Patrick Mahomes should play about one quarter, with the second team and Chad Henne helming the second. The third team with quarterbacks Kyle Shurmur and Chase Litton finishing the second half.
This marks the opening night for coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and the revamped defense. Teams don't normally unveil their best new tricks in the preseason, but it should be quickly evident what attitude and chemistry this defense has developed during the first two weeks of training camp. Fans may not see defensive ends Frank Clark and Alex Okafor due to injuries, and that could give Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks an opportunity to showcase their stuff. Kpassagnon emerged again as a training camp darling, but he has yet to translate that success into the regular season.
The Chiefs would love nothing more than for the second-round receiver to win the kick return job outright and become a legitimate relief option at punt return to limit the duty for Tyreek Hill. But Hardman has shown inconsistency in the return game, particularly securing the ball. There's no better way to incur the wrath of special teams coordinator Dave Toub than to make mistakes, so Hardman must achieve near perfection in the preseason to put the coaching staff's concerns at ease.
H-Back John Lovett
What is Lovett, a tight end, a full back, a true H-back? We might not find that answer in the preseason – if Lovett is indeed a valuable chess piece, best to save that for the regular season. But we should find out quickly if he can reliably catch the ball, pickup up blocks and make plays on special teams. Lovett making the team would likely lead to dropping a tight end or a running back, so his position on the team has other ramifications on roster construction. It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs deploy him and if he can show consistency.
This is where backups win their jobs. You can't be the fifth wide receiver, the fourth cornerback, the fourth safety or any other backup without playing teams. The gunners should be of particular interest to watch, especially the depth at wide receiver fighting for positions. If you see a blocker or tackler make a mistake on special teams, that's a sure way to miss out on the 53-man roster when the season starts.
Shurmur vs. Litton
It's said the most popular guy on the team is the backup quarterback – OK, that will never be true behind Mahomes. But the developmental quarterback behind Mahomes and Henne remains of interest. Reid has a history – before Kansas City – of developing young quarterbacks into currency via the trade market. Litton showed plenty of promise last season, but it looks like he's in a battle with Kyle Shurmur, the former Vanderbilt quarterback and son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, a Reid protege in Philadelphia. The winner likely lands on the practice squad, but it's still an intriguing battle.