KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs wrapped up training camp Wednesday and now shift focus to the three remaining preseason contests, starting Friday night against the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium.
Starters are expected to see more action than the preseason opener, where the first-team offense played in three series and the first-team defense played in one series against the Arizona Cardinals.
“What we’ll do with the rotation is we’ll get somewhere close to a half with the ones,” coach Andy Reid said of Friday night’s plan, “and then we’ll put in the twos and threes after that.”
With extended playing time comes important evaluation leading to the third preseason game, which is widely regarded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Here are areas to monitor Friday night:
The Chiefs experienced another round of rotations on the offensive line in the final days of training camp after seeing left tackle Eric Fisher (high-ankle sprain) and right tackle Jeff Allen (knee) suffer injuries.
Fisher’s and Allen’s injuries are obviously bad news.
The good news, however, is the Chiefs have serviceable depth compared to 2014 when Ryan Harris signed days before start of training camp and Mike McGlynn signed after third preseason game.
“This is a very deep group, a lot of good, hungry talented guys,” offensive line coach Andy Heck said. “I’m very pleased how they’re all coming out to work and better themselves individually, not just to battle to be one of those five guys – be one of the seven up on game day, be one of the nine or 10 or eight or how many we keep that’s on this football team. It’s a process we’re still going through and the guys are doing a real nice job with it.”
Two-time Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs is a mainstay, while the absence of Fisher and Allen, who suffered his injury in the preseason opener, caused a reshuffle of the front five.
Tackle Donald Stephenson, who gave way to Allen, returned to the first-team offense in place of Allen, but then shifted to the left when Fisher went down Monday.
Jarrod Pughsley saw action at right tackle Monday and Tuesday, before Paul Fanaika took first-team repetition in place of Pughsley, who returned to the second team.
Second-year pro Laurent Duvernay-Tardif took over at right guard for Zach Fulton, who started the preseason opener at the position.
Rookie Mitch Morse continued to man center since taking over that role from Eric Kush last week.
The Chiefs would like to settle the starting unit sooner than later, especially when considering starters hardly see the field in the final preseason game.
So, Friday night’s personnel grouping could go a long way in determining who plays a large role in the third preseason contest against the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 28 in the event Fisher and Allen aren’t ready.
“You have to, I think by the time you get to your third week when your starters are playing a lot, three quarters, you should have that ironed out,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “Going into that last week, where you play all your backups, those starters now get ready for that opening day, so you’ve still got a couple of days here to really get that thing ironed out. From there, it’s all hands on deck. Give the starters all the reps they can handle, and they get ready for that first game.”
STOPPING BEAST MODE
The Chiefs’ run defense faces a legitimate test Friday night, depending, of course, on how long the Seahawks keep the starters in the game.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson combined for 195 yards rushing against the Chiefs in Week 11 of the 2014 season, a campaign that saw the Chiefs finish 28th against the run.
The return of inside linebacker Derrick Johnson from the 2014 ruptured Achilles tendon provides a boost, but the absence of defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who recovers from back surgery, is a concern.
Defensive tackle Jaye Howard has filled in for Poe, and defensive line coach Tommy Brasher appears pleased with what he’s seen from the position group.
“Of course, we miss Poe,” Brasher said. “But really, it’s pretty good. They’re competing and they’re getting better, and I think when we get Poe back, then that will be a big plus for us. I think we’ll be competitive.”
How Lynch is handled without Poe could offer optimism when considering the Chiefs face running backs C.J. Anderson, Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill, Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell in the first half of the regular season.
ESTABLISH A RHYTHM
The Chiefs scored 31 points in the preseason opener, thanks largely to the second-team offense because the first-team offense was shaky, even in limited action that saw the unit go 0-3 in converting third downs.
With coach Andy Reid expected to play starters into the second quarter before inserting the backups, the extended playing time could kick start the offense.
“You want to sustain some drives,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “Third down, for that first group, we weren’t very good. We got ourselves into a third-and-long, then obviously had the turnover. We had two thirds-and-pretty-decent and we couldn’t convert and it really kind of held us up. Obviously I think that’s an area for improvement.”
What would help establishing a tempo is running back Jamaal Charles, who saw action on two snaps in the preseason opener.
Free safety Eric Berry saw eight snaps in the preseason opener, as the Chiefs continue to work in the former first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection.
“We’ll bring him along slowly,” defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas said, “but we play so many different packages. We started with four or five, so he’ll be able to play a lot.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Berry is “close” to returning to form, but the Chiefs will only ask Berry to do what he is comfortable with.
“This is really a chance to get back into football,” Sutton said, “the fundamentals of his position and I think every day out there talking with him, he’s becoming more comfortable. Like I said earlier, we are going to follow his rhythm – whatever he feels – that’s what we are going to follow. So far it has been really good.”
Berry finished training camp working mostly with the second-team defense, but saw action in sub-packages with the first unit.
The Chiefs currently list Berry second on the depth chart at free safety behind Husain Abdullah.
The Chiefs’ top five wide receivers project as Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Jason Avant and rookie Chris Conley, and then it gets very interesting.
Frankie Hammond Jr., Fred Williams and rookie Da’Ron Brown each scored a touchdown in the preseason opener, with Williams leading the team with six catches for 82 yards.
Hammond has seen time with the first-team offense to fill-in for Maclin, while Williams also saw time with the starters when Wilson missed time with an illness. Brown finished training camp strong after a relatively quiet start, and often saw time with the second-team unit in the final days.
The Chiefs have a hard decision looming on the horizon surrounding how many wide receivers to keep on the 53-man roster.
Hammond, Williams and Brown are vying for potentially the final one or two spots.