NFL training camps are around the corner, and the first whistle-blow at Missouri Western State University will ring in the Romeo Crennel era.
A flood of Kansas City Chiefs will jog onto the field at MWSU next week. By Sept. 5 (deadline for final roster cuts), familiar faces will become memories, and athletic strangers will be introduced to intrigued onlookers.
Missing links to a three-sided machine are going to be filled by shiny, newly purchased parts.
By the end of each day, the line of scrimmage will be stained by waterfalls of sweat—just for a chance to dash through the Arrowhead tunnel and part the Red Sea on Sundays.
In its barest form, a training camp is a problem-solving obstacle course. Coaches dictate experiments, the preseason adds random variables, and theories are deduced from the outcome(s). Simple science. It's only natural that the events are barraged with shrug-worthy doubts and anxious curiosity.
Kansas City's 2012 squad is no exception. The team features more story lines than a Lost marathon.
As the Chiefs march onto the practice field, five questions will loom overhead:
1. How are players adjusting to new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll?
Out with the old, in the new: a different brain behind the offensive operation, a renovated playbook to dissect and a slew of foreign terminology to memorize.
Following the retirement of Bill Muir—Kansas City's 2011 offensive coordinator—Romeo Crennel hired a familiar face as the replacement: Brian Daboll.
Daboll isn't a household name but shares ties with the Chiefs family—namely Romeo Crennel, Peyton Hillis and Brady Quinn.
The good news? In 2010, Hillis was elected to the Pro Bowl under the guidance of Daboll.
The bad news? Within the same season, the Cleveland Browns finished 31st throughout the league in points scored.
However, fans should breathe an optimistic sigh of relief. Unsurprisingly, the play-caller's brief 2011 stint in South Beach yielded more sufficient results; a Matt Moore-led Dolphins offense finished 20th in points.
Brian Daboll isn't an architect that will build mountains from molehills. He simply takes the cards he's dealt and plays them appropriately. If the trend holds true, the Chiefs offense should revert back to its 2010 form, and Kansas City will reclaim the throne as kings of the AFC West.
2. Will Dwayne Bowe be present on the first day of training camp?
This offseason, markers impetuously circled one date throughout calendars in the Kansas City area: July 16—the final day to sign franchise players to long-term contracts.
Ultimately, the Chiefs' leading receiver didn't become wealthy but remained rich—there's a difference, ask Chris Rock. Until the wideout inks another contract with the team, his financial interest will continue to accrue on Kansas City's tab. Otherwise, the "D-Bowe Show" will eventually become a 32-city, nationwide tour.
However, the Arrowhead faithful should expect to see No. 82 grace the field at the beginning of training camp (July 27). But if the aerial asset is in attendance, a wave of questions will converge at his locker.
Will it be his last training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs?
Bowe knows football, but will he digest the offense in time for the season opener?
Only time will have the final say.
3. Do players still show lingering effects of their 2011 ACL injuries?
In 2010, a relatively healthy Kansas City team was crowned atop of its division. An injury-plagued squad concluded 2011 as the AFC West bottom-dwellers.
A Game of Thrones regressed into a game of thorns.
What a difference a year makes.
A crop of budding NFL stars—namely Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki—suffered ACL injuries. Although the trio were victimized by the notorious injury early in the season, expectations will be difficult to gauge until pads collide.
4. How well is Dontari Poe adapting to Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense?
When the commissioner announced Kansas City's first-round pick, it was enveloped in skepticism.
Dontari Poe is the 2012 NFL Draft's most puzzling riddle, and Romeo Crennel is tasked with solving it.
The defensive tackle will transition from Memphis' 4-3 scheme into Kansas City's two-gap 3-4. In other words, less assistance, more decision-making and an unprecedented level of responsibility.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Poe passed every test with flying colors. But on-field, he missed assignments, rendering his game-day portfolio unimpressive.
If Coach Crennel can successfully fit the 346-pounder's salvaged parts into his defensive scheme, the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at becoming a top-tier defense.
5. Is Rodney Hudson transitioning comfortably into the starting center role?
Center Casey Wiegmann endured 11 years of trench warfare in the NFL—eight of which occurred in Kansas City. He was the familiar anchor that once shielded Trent Green and eventually secured Matt Cassel.
He’s done a great job adjusting so far and he’s been handling a lot of calls up front, and he’s done a great job recognizing front and blitzes and doing all that, so like I said, he’s caught up to speed right now and I expect good things from him. I think it was a great year for him to be able to learn from such a professional like Casey.
If Cassel's impressions hold weight, the Chiefs have found their new starting center.
July 27 marks the passing of two torches: one in London and another in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Bubbles and egos tend to be equally fragile. When the former pops, the latter follows suit.
NFL players are competing at the highest level of their respective craft. For the athletes living on the roster's edge, one careless slip-up can be the catalyst of an everlasting free fall.
Aspiring to survive the Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 roster cuts, 10 players are cautiously balancing on the bubble:
Jerrell Powe (DT): In college, Powe's weight fluctuated between 300 and 365 pounds. When he was tipping scales at the latter weight, Powe made a name for himself. Adversely, his draft stock simultaneously dropped with his 65 pounds. The Chiefs attempted to find a happy medium which hovered around the 330 mark. But even if Powe begins to resemble his dominant collegiate days, Amon Gordon could bounce him to third string.
Josh Bellamy (WR): An undrafted rookie with 4.38 speed (Scout.com). Although he's facing the uphill battle royale that every obscure rookie encounters, Bellamy has caught the eye of Coach Crennel. Doubling as a part-time cornerback at Louisville, Bellamy's unique diversity lands him on the fast track towards the 53-man roster.
Donald Washington (CB/S): Although the fourth-year safety has participated in 12 contests each of the last two seasons, he's up against stiff competition in 2012. Savvy veteran Abram Elam and helmet-rattling rookie De'Quan Menzie are distancing the gap between themselves and Washington.
Cameron Sheffield (LB): Drafted with pass-rushing intentions, Sheffield's a year behind the curve after missing the 2011 season. Special teams will be his calling card, but he still possesses the talent to outperform Gabe Miller and Andy Studebaker at outside linebacker.
Jalil Brown (CB): Travis Daniels will scrap with Brown for the fourth cornerback spot. Javier Arenas is a lock as Kansas City's nickelback, and if Daniels—who netted two interceptions last season—bumps Brown, the second-year cornerback will find himself on the outskirts (especially since rookie De'Quan Menzie excelled in slot coverage at Alabama).
Terrance Copper (WR): Despite minimal production as a receiver, Copper has sustained an eight-year NFL career. In 105 games, he's amassed less than 1,000 yards (939). But Copper's special teams expertise will present a glimmer of hope for the foreseeable future. He'll account for one of the 53 men on the roster.
Jeremy Horne (WR): He has managed to keep his head above water through special teams. However, the fourth-round selection of Devon Wylie placed a burden on Horne's shoulders. Wylie is a special teams phenom—both returning and pursuing—that doubles as a shifty offensive threat in the slot. Barring an injury to one of his peers, Horne will likely pack his bags before opening day.
Gabe Miller (LB): Injured reserve consumed his rookie season. Miller will duel the aforementioned Cameron Sheffield and attempt to justify his fifth-round selection in 2011. But if Sheffield imitates the outside pressure that he exhibited at Troy, Miller's final destination will likely be the practice squad.
Jake O'Connell (TE): The third tight end slot is O'Connell's to lose, if only due to experience. Entering into the league as a 26-year-old rookie, the 6'7" Brandon Bair has limited upside. Steve Maneri, his other threat, has only snatched one reception throughout his first two seasons.
Shane Bannon (FB): The starting fullback position is vacant. Motel-in-the-boondocks-with-a-flickering-Bates-sign vacant. And while Shane Bannon is the frontrunner to fill the void, it doesn't necessarily mean that he will see the field often. The brawny stature of Peyton Hillis will likely serve as the up-back in a share of the two-back sets with Jamaal Charles. However, he will virtually win the fullback job by default (Taylor Gentry is the only other FB) due to the lack of competition. Bannon should crack the roster.
Behind every jersey number, there's a story.
Some are original; most are remakes of age-old tales.
As fans line the outskirts of the field, every set of eyes should lock onto these 10 players:
Brady Quinn (QB): In three years with the Chiefs, starter Matt Cassel has been sidelined for at least one game every season. While the defense allowed a division-leading 338 points in 2011, the offense finished last in the conference with 212 points scored. Backup Tyler Palko—who blindly tossed the ball like a garter—accounted for a meager two touchdowns in six contests.
Kansas City didn't invest in an insurance plan and was left with a liability.
Scott Pioli extracted wisdom from the mistake and signed Brady Quinn to a one-year deal. Notre Dame's former gunslinger hasn't taken a regular season snap since 2009; his opportunities in Denver were imprinted with tread marks via Tim Tebow's bandwagon. While he's a welcomed alternative to Palko, Quinn still needs to prove that he's capable of manufacturing scoring drives if his number's called upon.
Jamaal Charles (RB): The offense knows what it's getting with Jamaal Charles...or rather, knew. When No. 25 is healthy, he boasts chess-master anticipation and reacts quicker than fish in finger-tapped aquariums; crevices become runways and fearless predators are converted to insecure prey. In other words, he's difficult to tackle.
But while his 2010 campaign was defined by his wheels on the field, 2011 was defined by the four that carted him off of it. Throughout the preseason, fans hope to see an evasive speedster that makes surgical cuts—not a memory of one.
Cyrus Gray (RB): The rookie should prove to be a steal in the sixth-round. While it's likely that his playing time will be limited this season, Gray has the makings of an ideal third-down back: a shifty rushing and receiving threat who successfully picks up blitzes.
Jon Baldwin (WR): As clocks rolled to 3 p.m. on July16, the Chiefs didn't announce a signing for the future, but a sign of things to come. By refusing to meet Dwayne Bowe's monetary demands, a poker-faced Scott Pioli doubled down and invested in the rising stock of Jon Baldwin.
A compressed offseason, compounded with a broken thumb, limited Baldwin's experience as a rookie. But that didn't keep him from illuminating with flashes of unbridled brilliance.
Technically, under the reformed franchise tag rules, Kansas City can tag Bowe until 2014 (he would be owed $11.3 million next season). A replay of this offseason's scenario isn't implausible in 2013—Glenn Dorsey and Branden Albert headline an otherwise nonessential group of Chiefs free agents.
But the front office already unveiled intentions to replace Cassel by pursuing Peyton Manning—and quarterbacks gluttonously devour salary cap space—and the significance of receivers is minimized within the team's run-oriented offense.
Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin are interlinked on a scale: as Baldwin's production increases, Bowe's leverage decreases. If the second-year protégé produces a breakout season, he could simultaneously be Bowe's best friend and worst enemy.
Devon Wylie (WR): One name became instantly synonymous with the Fresno State rookie: Wes Welker. And for good reason. Both are agile, 5'9" slot receivers that cause hairs to stand on the necks of special teams coaches. Wylie embodies the necessary talent to provide an immediate impact as a returner.
Rodney Hudson (C): With the retirement of Casey Wiegmann, an abundance of burdens rolled onto Hudson's shoulders. The second-year center will pull the strings up front while building a rapport with quarterback Matt Cassel.
Dontari Poe (DT): Depending on Poe's success, Kansas City's front office will look like council members of Mensa or naive gamblers. The 346-pound behemoth contains the potential to be a backfield disruptor. Adversely, he's just as likely to be the next defensive lineman added to the Chiefs' long list of draft blunders. Intrigued eyes will watch as Poe adapts to a new scheme at the next level.
But one bright spot emerged: Justin Houston. Despite a shortened offseason due to the lockout, the rookie still managed to rank second on the team with 5.5 sacks. With a full offseason and a year of experience under his belt, Houston could prove to be the secondary sack artist that has been sought since Jared Allen's departure. If so, the population of Tamba Hali's deserted island will increase to two this season.
Stanford Routt (CB): Defensive back Brandon Carr performed admirably during his four-year stay. Ironically, the corner was covered by the shadow of Brandon Flowers' intensifying stardom and was recruited to a bigger, bluer star in Dallas.
Carr's replacement, Stanford Routt, once occupied the role of his predecessor. As the complementary corner to former Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha, Routt matured into a dangerous defender, and the revered duo ascended to prominence. If history echoes itself, the tandem of Flowers and Routt should follow the same road to success.
Eric Berry (S): If Rice Krispies spilled into a sweltering pan of Crisco grease, it still wouldn't cause as much snap, crackle and popping as Eric Berry: Exhibit A.
But will 2011's ACL tear cause the aforementioned sizzling to fizzle out?
Doubtful. No. 29 (@Stuntman1429) eats, sleeps, breathes and thinks "football":
All I can think about is makin plays...— Eric Berry (@Stuntman1429) July 11, 2012
Alongside his 92 tackles, the Chiefs safety produced two sacks, one forced fumble, four interceptions and a touchdown before the credits rolled on his rookie season. He's a motivated playmaker that wages psychological warfare on receivers. On third-and-long, wideouts vulnerably sprinting across the middle are conscious of the merciless wrecking ball that potentially targets them; alligator arms tend to bring out long snappers.
Throughout OTAs, players gained a firm understanding of what they're up against.
But tension will slowly materialize into a schism that splinters once-friendly competition.
Three specific battles are neck-and-neck heading into camp, and there's no telling how the scales will tip:
Wide Receiver: Steve Breaston vs. Jon Baldwin
Although a gang of questions shroud Dwayne Bowe's long-term relationship with the team, one assumption should hold true: The talented playmaker will line up as Matt Cassel's primary receiver. However, the remaining starting job will mandate a preseason tug-of-war between Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin.
Entering this training camp, Breaston has solidified a reputation as a reliable pass-catcher. In his debut season with Kansas City, Breaston snatched 61 receptions for 785 yards. He's not exceptional in any aspect, but sufficient in all.
Baldwin (6'4", 230 pounds) measures four inches taller and packs 40 more pounds. Last season, the then-rookie produced highlight-reel catches and showcased enough quickness to be a respectable deep threat.
Breaston is outmatched physically, but possesses the mental edge due to Baldwin's lack of experience.
Left Guard: Ryan Lilja vs. Jeff Allen
Ryan Lilja's résumé isn't decorated with a plethora of personal achievements but includes one influential reference: Peyton Manning. The former Indianapolis Colts quarterback has been all-but deified within football circles, but it's not due to his legs.
When Manning scrambles, the football transforms into a life preserver and "Starring David Hasselhoff" flashes at the bottom of the screen—he's sluggishly slow. However, Lilja and cohorts negated the immobility of their quarterback by forming a virtual wall, and Manning's laser-guided-rocket arm hoisted the Super Bowl XLI trophy.
If Allen's performance even partly mimics that during his career at the University of Illinois—his blocking spearheaded 14 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons—he will find a permanent residence neighboring the youthful pairing of Rodney Hudson and Jon Asamoah.
Kick Returner: Javier Arenas vs. Dexter McCluster vs. Devon Wylie
Until Devon Wylie earns the trust of Romeo Crennel and his coaching staff, a Master Lock with Javier Arenas' name asphyxiates the punt returning duties. Arenas has a very particular set of skills; skills he has acquired over a very long career (if you let his daughter go...nevermind). Sure-grip hands, lateral agility and the ability to shed tackles makes him an ideal returner on fourth downs.
The demands for receiving kickoffs aren't quite as specialized. In contrast to the cautious mentality of fetching punts, returning kicks places a premium on fearlessness and top-end speed.
As 2011 progressed, seeing Dexter McCluster bring high-arcing kickoffs into a special teams mosh pit became a common sight. But even if the trend continues, Devon Wylie—a renowned collegiate return man—will undoubtedly be on the speedster's tail (Road Runner vs. Wylie Coyote?) with aspirations to win the job.
Training camp kicks off next week, and fans will get a glimpse of a 2012 roster that's swamped with mysteries.
Kansas City will taste its first in-game action versus the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 10, and the four-game exhibition tour will conclude at Green Bay near the month's end (Aug. 30).
Both schedules are as follows:
Training Camp Schedule
Friday, July 2 —Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Saturday, July 28—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Sunday, July 29—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Monday, July 30—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Tuesday, July 31—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice – 7:15 p.m. (Spratt Stadium)
Thursday, Aug. 2—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 3—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 4—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; Family Fun Day – 1:30 p.m. (Spratt Stadium)
team autograph session
Monday, Aug. 6—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 7—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 8—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 13—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 14—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 15—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; practice, 3:20 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 16—Walk-through, 10:30 a.m.; break camp practice, 3:20 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 10—Arizona Cardinals @ Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday, Aug. 18—Kansas City Chiefs @ St. Louis Rams
Friday, Aug. 24—Seattle @ Kansas City Chiefs
Thursday, Aug 30—Kansas City Chiefs @ Green Bay Packers
The team will pack its luggage in preparation for next week's arrival in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Plan on attending?
Here's the information that every Arrowhead tailgater needs to know:
Location: Missouri State Western University. 4525 Downs Dr., St. Joseph, MO 64507
Duration: This season's training camp will span from Friday, July 27 to Thursday, Aug. 16. Kansas City's two-plus-week visit will include 15 morning walk-throughs, followed by 13 afternoon practices and one evening practice at Spratt Stadium.
Cost: Walk-throughs are private, but all outdoor practices are free and open to the public (sessions moved indoors due to weather will be closed).
Family Fun Day will take place on Aug. 4. Admission will cost $5, and ages three and under will be free of charge.
A $5 parking fee will be required for each practice. Players will also sign autographs following every public session.
Brief history: Following the organization's departure from long-time staple River Falls, WI, Kansas City's training camp eventually returned to its home state. The Chiefs' trip to St. Joseph will mark the team's third consecutive training camp at MWSU.
Printable map of MWSU.
Website: Chiefs training camp
The Kansas City Chiefs 90-man training camp roster (ordered alphabetically):
Quarterback (4): Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Ricky Stanzi, Alex Tanney
Fullback (2): Shane Bannon, Taylor Gentry
Running Back (6): Jamaal Charles, Shaun Draughn, Nate Eachus, Cyrus Gray, Peyton Hillis, Dexter McCluster
Wide Receiver (12): Jon Baldwin, Josh Bellamy, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Terrance Copper, Junior Hemingway, Jeremy Horne, Brandon Kinnie, Zeke Markshausen, Jamar Newsome, Aaron Weaver, Devon Wylie
Tight End (6): Tim Biere, Kevin Boss, Steve Maneri, Tony Moeaki, Jake O'Connell, Martin Rucker*
Offensive Tackle (4): Branden Albert, David Mims, Donald Stephenson, Eric Winston
Guard (7): Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Justin Cheadle, Darryl Harris, Ryan Lilja, Luke Patterson, Rich Ranglin
Center (3): Rob Bruggeman, Cam Holland, Rodney Hudson
Defensive Tackle (4): Amon Gordon, Dontari Poe, Jerrell Powe, Anthony Toribio
Defensive End (7): Allen Bailey, Brandon Bair, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Ethan Johnson, Jerome Long, Ropati Pitoitua
Linebacker (12): Jovan Belcher, Caleb Campbell, Cory Greenwood, Tamba Hali, Dexter Heyman, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Gabe Miller, Cameron Sheffield, Brandon Siler, Andy Studebaker, Leon Williams
Cornerback (9): Javier Arenas, Mikail Baker, Jalil Brown, Travis Daniels, Chandler Fenner, Brandon Flowers, Jacques Reeves, Stanford Routt, Neiko Thorpe
Safety (10): Eric Berry, Abram Elam, Dominique Ellis, Jean Fanor, Tysyn Hartman, Kendrick Lewis, Kyle McCarthy, De'Quan Menzie, Terrance Parks, Donald Washington
Punter (1): Dustin Colquitt
Kicker (2): Ryan Succop, Matt Szymanski
Long Snapper (1): Thomas Gafford
* Placed on injured reserve
Kansas City's 2012 NFL Draft is double-coated with speculation and intrigue.
Six of the eight selections possess desirable odds in cracking the final 53-man roster. On the other hand, two are all-but guaranteed to be left in the dust.
This season's draft recap:
Chiefs 2012 NFL Draft
PICK POS NAME
1 (11) DT Dontari Poe
2 (44) G Jeff Allen
3 (74) OT Donald Stephenson
4 (107) WR Devon Wylie
5 (146) S De'Quan Menzie
6 (182) RB Cyrus Gray
7 (218) DT Jerome Long
7 (238) WR Junior Hemingway
Dontari Poe (DT): The first-round-pick's portfolio is saturated with extreme black-and-white hues; gray is nonexistent. Pedestrian game footage births a spectrum of pessimism, while headline-worthy NFL combine numbers lay the foundation for reassured optimism.
Poe's aforementioned transition from a 4-3 scheme to Coach Crennel's two-gap 3-4 is a steep mountain to climb. The latter's blueprint aligns him directly over the opposing center. Once the ball snaps, the young defensive tackle will be responsible for both A-gaps (the space between the center and each individual guard). After the directional commitment, it's back to the basics.
Barring an injury, Poe's name will ring out through the speakers with the rest of the starters in Week 1. But an acutely sharp and extensive learning curve awaits him. Failures are inevitable—they douse gasoline onto the fire of some but snuff the flames of others. If Poe's persistence pays off, Kansas City's lambasted gamble will result in a jackpot.
Jeff Allen (G): A four-year starter at tackle, Allen was repositioned as a guard for Kansas City's line. The start of training camp will green-light an aggressive competition of "Anything you can do, I can do better." Veteran Ryan Lilja will try to cement his starting position at left guard. However, this season's ambitious second-rounder is seemingly destined to overtake the privilege.
Allen's flaws reflect those of a typical big man: His hand speed is unimpressive, and his technique appears untidy at times. However, the move to guard will nullify a fair share of his cons.
Jeff Allen owns a two-inch height advantage and accounts for 14 more pounds than Lilja, but the perennial starter has seven notches of NFL experience under his belt. With Jon Asamoah entering his second year as a full-time starter and Rodney Hudson progressing through his first, every iota of experience is amplified. Lilja's mental edge may be the X-factor that secures his position come opening day. But if Jeff Allen supplants the veteran by season's end, no eyebrows would raise.
Donald Stephenson (OT): At 6'6", 306 pounds, Stephenson fits the bill as an archetypal NFL tackle. Unlike fellow rookie Jeff Allen, Stephenson only acquired two years of starting experience at the collegiate level. He's a long-term project that will gradually bolster his instincts if he's afforded adequate time.
Although he will have a roster spot anchored, Stephenson's contributions will be few and far between throughout 2012.
Devon Wylie (WR): Star quality normally begins to simmer throughout the second round; let alone picks in the triple digits.
Wylie, however, is unique in a multitude of ways. As a 5'9" slot receiver, he demonstrates dime-stopping agility and matador-like elusiveness. The pride of Fresno State doubles as an elite special teams returner that shifts gears before defenders finish blinking. Devon Wylie will become closely acquainted with the field during his rookie debut.
De'Quan Menzie (S): The former Alabama defensive back is intriguing. He's not without his own list of cons: His recovery speed is mediocre, and he has a track record of lingering injury problems. But Menzie's skill set is extremely diverse. His football IQ is top-tier, opponents rarely break his tackles and he's exceptional at slot coverage.
Menzie's slated as a safety, and the rookie will likely be used sparingly on defense. But De'Quan Menzie could challenge Kendrick Lewis in the near future if he's given consistent doses of playing time.
Cyrus Gray (RB): This season's sixth-round selection is a jack-of-all-trades. Gray boasts a dynamic arsenal that's strikingly well-rounded for a first-year player.
Traditionally, fourth-string running backs rarely sniff the field when the ball isn't booted sky-high. But Gray could be an exception to the rule. Before the last chapter turns on the 2012 NFL season, Gray could easily manipulate his way into third-down situations.
Jerome Long (DE): An unforeseen jump in production during a breakout senior season boosted Long's stock. In his final year at San Diego St., he ended with 73 tackles and five sacks to his name.
However, his 6'5", 285-pound frame plants another road block that he'll be forced to circumvent. Long has historically lined up at defensive tackle, but his body directly opposes conventional wisdom for the position (low level of gravity with a bulky frame). Allen Bailey and Ropati Pitoitua aren't going to be replaced by a seventh-round pick who's unfamiliar with the position. Every man on the roster has a shot at making it, but Jerome's is indicative of his last name.
He'll be cut.
Junior Hemingway (WR): Hemingway's preseason time will be an audition for the other 31 teams. He has springs for calves, but is devoid of threatening speed and often bullied in bump-and-run coverage.
Kansas City is filled to the brim with receiving talent and contains a group of proven special teams players that also moonlight as wideouts. If the Michigan alum lands a spot on the practice squad, the news would be nothing short of astonishing.
Hemingway will finish on the outskirts.
Three undrafted free agents are on the fast-track to success and warrant a spot on the final roster:
Josh Bellamy (WR): Bellamy is a practical candidate to survive the upcoming roster cuts for two reasons: He's explosively quick, and he contains experience at defensive back.
On Louisville's campus, scouts clocked Bellamy's 40-time clocked at 4.38 (Scout.com). Also, it's not a secret that special teams is the best friend of players that find themselves on the bubble. The pairing of elite speed and defensive experience make Bellamy a prime candidate for kickoff-and-fourth-down duties.
Terrance Parks (S): Parks was the fourth-leading tackler on an oppressive Florida State defensive machine last year. He was recruited as coveted corner, but transitioned to safety in college due to lack of depth at the position.
As a result of Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis missing offseason OTAs, Parks even saw first-team reps.
Dexter Heyman (LB): In his senior season at Louisville, Dexter Heyman assaulted opposing offenses. He recorded 90 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and three interceptions.
Safe to say, the defensive noisemaker created a buzz amongst the scouting community.
Standing at 6'3", 238 pounds, Heyman already displays an NFL build for the position. His aggressive demeanor and relentless motor—coupled with the fact that inside linebacker is, perhaps, Kansas City's most pressing need—should assure that his Sunday suit is red and yellow.
When free agency began, Scott Pioli's intentions were clear-cut. He wanted to plug holes with airtight solutions and stockpile much-needed depth to the team—mission accomplished.
To a varying degree, every free agent will make immediate contributions:
Brady Quinn (QB): Kyle Orton inked a three-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, and the pursuit of Peyton Manning detoured into a dead end. Cassel's job was as secure as Fort Knox, and Brady Quinn was signed as a security blanket.
When news of the signing broke, the former Golden Domer was presumed to be plan B. However, second-year quarterback Ricky Stanzi has added a few notable names to his fanclub: GM Scott Pioli, quarterback coach Jim Zorn and play-by-play announcer Mitch "Touchdown, Kan-sas City!" Holthus. When asked about Stanzi's progression, Zorn answered:
(Stanzi) is much-improved already this year with the capabilities of the offense, making decisions on the line of scrimmage with protections and runs and things like that. Things that we weren’t even getting to until midway through training camp, so this is a real plus for him.
The pair of backups split second-team reps during OTAs. That doesn't bode well for Quinn, considering that he was already familiar with the terminology of Brian Daboll's system.
Expect the teeter-tottering for second string to intensify as the preseason approaches.
Peyton Hillis (RB): Like Quinn, Peyton Hillis is another former pupil of Daboll at Cleveland. In 2010—Daboll's last season with the Browns—Hillis became a household name and earned a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Although Jamaal Charles, when healthy, is one of the irrefutably elite rushers in the league, his former Kansas City coaches have always shared a paranoia of overworking No. 25. The contagious theory translates into a generous amount of carries for Charles' backup(s); in this case, Peyton Hillis.
A one-year contracts hangs over Hillis' head, so the barbaric bulldozer's supply of motivation will be plentiful.
He was undoubtedly signed due to Tony Moeaki's long-stemming injury issues, but the combination should soar (especially in the red zone) if Moeaki sprays the injury bug with repellent. Using history as a reference, fans can expect the tight end to grab 30-plus passes and five touchdowns—give or take.
Eric Winston (OT): Matt Schaub's former bodyguard could easily prove to be Kansas City's most pivotal acquisition of 2012. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle that, along with Branden Albert, can offer tidbits of wisdom to an otherwise inexperienced line (assuming that Jeff Allen overtakes the left guard slot in the near future).
Since John Tait packed his bags for Chicago in 2004, right tackle has been a rotating carousel for the Chiefs. With the addition of Winston, Kansas City's offensive front retrieved a sense of balance that vanished years ago.
Ropati Pitoitua (DE): The 6'8", 315-pound Samoan was released by the New York Jets following the first-round selection of Quinton Coples.
Pitoitua is a run-stuffing tank at the defensive end position that will be rotated out on passing downs. While youngsters Brandon Baird and Jerome Long will attempt to take his spot, Pitoitua's job isn't on shaky ground (unless he falls).
Stanford Routt (CB): Pioli signed Stanford Routt hoping that the corner imitates his past success with Nnamdi Asomugha. The two were arguably the most intimidating duo in the NFL, but the production of both decreased following their separation.
But Routt will return to his former unofficial role as the number-two cornerback. Starring opposite of Brandon Flowers, Routt should shine outside of the spotlight once again.
Abram Elam (S): Elam started every game for a much-maligned Dallas Cowboys secondary in 2011. As Eric Berry(ACL) and Kendrick Lewis (torn pectoral) rehab from offseason surgery, Elam figures to be the recipient of an abundance of playing time throughout training camp.
Although the battle at safety will be increasingly fierce during training camp, Elam's experience is a bullet point that his younger counterparts (excluding De'Quan Menzie) won't likely topple.
Dating back to 2009, Kansas City has worked full-time as the league's doormat during the preseason.
Despite the fact that wins and losses don't affect the regular season, the four exhibitions serve as a barometer of depth—something that has bitten the Chiefs in past seasons.
Predictions for 2012's preseason matchups:
Friday, Aug. 10 (8 p.m.)—Arizona Cardinals @ Kansas City Chiefs
Matchup to Watch: AZ front seven vs. (RB) Cyrus Gray
Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have proven that each can handle the pressure of starting in the NFL. Covering Arizona's arsenal of receivers—namely Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Early Doucet—is a demanding task. The signing of Todd Heap adds another layer of difficulty.
The previously mentioned tandem of quarterbacks will take all of the first-half snaps. Also, Kansas City will debut its new offense for the first time and will likely encounter speed bumps throughout the night.
Final: Arizona 20–16 Kansas City
Saturday, Aug. 18 (8 p.m.)—Kansas City Chiefs @ St. Louis Rams
Matchup to Watch: (OT) Eric Winston vs. (DE) Jake Long
Recently, one question has been associated with Jeff Fisher within the football community: Is he overrated?
By signing onto his last contract's dotted line, Fisher vowed to turn around a rapidly sinking ship. Bradford regressed after a praiseworthy rookie campaign. However, the front office shoulders an even split of the blame. Excluding Stephen Jackson, St. Louis' "weapons" are as intimidating as knives in gunfights...Dollar General plastic knives in Quentin Tarantino gunfights.
The defense is better in the sense of being less worse. Kansas City's notable reserves, such as Brady Quinn, Ricky Stanzi, Cyrus Gray and Devon Wylie, will be given ample opportunities to bombard the stat sheet.
Final: Kansas City 24–9 St. Louis
Friday, Aug. 24 (8 p.m.)—Seattle Seahawks @ Kansas City Chiefs
Matchup to Watch: (QB) Matt Flynn vs. (S) Eric Berry
The majority of starters normally play into the second half of the third preseason game. The aforementioned fact, plus cheap preseason tickets, will ensure that Arrowhead is packed.
Seattle produced a top-10 defense in 2011. However, Kansas City's high-octane offense (fingers crossed) will repeatedly dissect the Seattle secondary.
The Seahawks offense will endure growing pains throughout the beginning of the season. Matt Flynn will presumably be a first-year starter at quarterback, and Tarvaris Jackson is wildly inconsistent. Kansas City's defense will suffocate Pete Carroll's offense.
Final: Seattle 10–17 Kansas City
Thursday, Aug. 30 (7 p.m.)—Kansas City Chiefs @ Green Bay Packers
Matchup to Watch: (LB) Justin Houston vs. (OT) Bryan Bulaga
Similar to Kansas City, Lambeau Field is one of the select stadiums that hosts raucous fans during preseason.
In a perfect world, the Chiefs will enter the contest at full strength. Although he will be used sparingly, Aaron Rodgers will have a sizable chip resting on his shoulder. Only one defense restrained the Packers from outputting 20 points last season: Kansas City's.
The Packers will step onto the field with a point to prove.
Final: Kansas City 14–20 Green Bay
Preseason record: 2–2
All Times Eastern/ET
The predicted 53-man roster heading into the 2012 regular season (ordered alphabetically):
Quarterback (3): Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Ricky Stanzi
Running Back (4): Jamaal Charles, Cyrus Gray, Peyton Hillis, Dexter McCluster
Fullback (1): Shane Bannon
Wide Receiver (6): Jon Baldwin, Josh Bellamy, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Terrance Copper, Devon Wylie
Tight End (3): Kevin Boss, Tony Moeaki, Jake O'Connell
Offensive Tackle (4): Branden Albert, David Mims, Donald Stephenson, Eric Winston
Guards (4): Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Darryl Harris, Ryan Lilja
Center (1): Rodney Hudson
Defensive End (4): Allen Bailey, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Ropati Pitoitua
Defensive Tackle (3): Amon Gordon, Dontari Poe, Jerrell Powe
Linebacker (8): Jovan Belcher, Tamba Hali, Dexter Heyman, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Cameron Sheffield, Brandon Siler, Andy Studebaker
Cornerback(4): Javier Arenas, Travis Daniels, Brandon Flowers, Stanford Routt
Safety (5): Eric Berry, Abe Elam, Kendrick Lewis, De'Quan Menzie, Terrance Parks
Punter (1): Dustin Colquitt
Kicker (1): Ryan Succop
Long Snapper (1): Thomas Gafford