Kansas City Chiefs: What to Expect from Rookies in Preseason
The preseason in the NFL is always the same for me. I’m so starved for football that I count down the days until the Hall of Fame game signals the end of my pathetic attempt to fill the Tamba Hali-sized hole in my heart with baseball.
Finally, it’s time to get back to football.
Despite the excitement, I inevitably look down at my watch after two series of preseason action to see if it’s September yet.
Still, for NFL diehards like you and I, there are a great many things to keep ourselves occupied in the preseason, chief among them being evaluating Kansas City’s newest crop of rookies.
Here’s what you can expect to see from the young fellas in August football.
Watching Romeo Crennel on draft day was like watching a little kid opening up a Superman action figure on his birthday. He can fly! He’s super strong! He can shoot lasers from his eyes! He’s 350 pounds and can run like a tight end!
However, now it seems like a few months have tempered Crennel’s expectations on what his Superman toy can do.
After happily proclaiming that Dontari Poe was a three-down player who could contribute immediately, the Chiefs head coach appears to be backing off his April assertions on the risky Poe.
“He needs to work on technique; he needs to work on understanding the system,” Crennel said to 610 Sports’ Jay Binkley. “He needs to get the calls correct all the time. He's got a ways to go."
Not a ringing endorsement of someone who’s currently sitting behind Anthony Toribio on the depth chart, but certainly not cause for early alarm either. Look for the Memphis Monster to get the majority of his early game reps in third-down nickel situations, as that’s the primary package Poe has been seeing first-team snaps in.
More interesting to watch will be later in games as Poe will likely get more snaps with the second defense in a more traditional noseguard role. Expect to see him struggle early in August as Poe tries to adjust from being able to simply overpower opponents to having to apply the coaching and technique required at the NFL level.
It might be a bumpy road at first, but there should be signs of improvement towards the end of August as Poe adjusts to the pro game. But don’t expect a Vince Wilfork redux for awhile.
Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson
The two beef picks of the 2012 Kansas City draft seem to be in two different places as the preseason dawns.
The second-rounder, Jeff Allen, seems to be destined for the same apprenticeship that current starters Jon Asamoah and Rodney Hudson have already completed: sit behind a veteran for a year before taking over.
Just as Asamoah and Hudson took over for Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann, Allen seems to be in waiting for Ryan Lilja’s spot. Expect Allen to get his reps protecting Brady Quinn, because Lilja is firmly entrenched as the starter.
But you can also expect Allen to perform fairly well, as he probably won’t be facing the best competition other teams have to offer. The transition for the massive former Fighting Illini should be somewhat smooth.
Stephenson, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be a factor in the immediate plans of the organization. He will probably play alongside Allen on the second offensive line and look fairly serviceable, but if he’s the supposed insurance plan for Brandon Albert leaving, he needs to show it this preseason.
You should expect Stephenson to have a few more bumps in the road than Allen because he wasn’t as highly regarded as his linemate coming out of Oklahoma and is far from polished.
Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway
Wylie and Hemingway were a couple of picks that made Chiefs fans sweat under the collar a bit about Dwayne Bowe’s future with the team, and are two guys who will be fun to watch throughout the exhibition season.
Wylie, the Fresno State speedster, is in contention for a starting role in the slot with incumbent Dexter McCluster. The speed is definitely there, but will he be speedy enough to adjust to the faster pace of an NFL game? How will he handle coverage from NFL-caliber corners?
Don’t expect him to break the starting lineup in preseason, but do expect for him to break through two or three times coming out of the slot and returning punts.
Hemingway is interesting. A seventh-round pick who’s not getting near as much in-camp hype as undrafted free agent Josh Bellamy, the Michigan product needs to show his value pretty quick. Look for the young receiver to bust his butt on special teams, because he needs to shine there to have any shot at the final 53.
If Ricky Stanzi manages to get the offense in any kind of rhythm, Hemingway needs to be lobbying for every pass he can get.
A steal in the fifth round, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli was tickled pink to find the Crimson corner waiting for him to bolster an already deep Kansas City secondary.
Menzie has the potential to play safety as well as corner, so he could very well play both positions throughout the year. With so much depth in the secondary, it may be difficult for Menzie to find the field in the early going, but preseason will be his time to shine.
Expect a solid showing from Menzie in the second and third quarters of the preseason games. Already stepping in with Abe Elam part of the time in the reserve safety tandem, Menzie should display a versatility that will not only bolster Kansas City’s depth but their special teams as well.
Also don't be surprised to see the Alabama product coming off the edge in blitz packages. The Chiefs aren't shy about sending their cover men after the quarterback, and games that don't matter are the perfect time to see who's up to snuff in that department.
Veteran Travis Daniels may be the primary backup now, but that responsibility could fall to Menzie if he performs in preseason.
Already facing an uphill battle with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis occupying the backfield, Cyrus Gray has run into yet another challenge with 2011 practice squad player Shaun Draughn impressing in camp. As the new guy in a crowded backfield, expect Gray to push himself to make an impact fast.
How? More than likely by taking over for Jackie Battle as the preseason MVP.
Expect Gray to get a lot of touches late in the exhibition games and make an impact immediately. Having run for 1,045 yards and 12 touchdowns for Texas A&M last year, he’s no stranger to being an integral part of an offense, and that’s exactly what he will be for Kansas City’s second- and third-team offenses.
Hoo boy, where to start?
Let’s just say that Jerome Long is in for some character building, because he’s going to have to fight for his NFL life this preseason.
This sixth-rounder out of San Diego State is at the bottom of the defensive line pile right now, and it’s going to take some shockingly good play for him to see anything past the practice squad.
Don’t look for Long until the latter part of the second half. With late-round selections and former undrafted free agents like Jerrell Powe and Brandon Bair showing improvement, every snap will be precious for the former Aztec.
He’s a draft pick, so he will get his opportunities, but don’t expect this longshot to show much of anything in what figures to be a developmental season at best.