Pioli, Haley, and Kansas City Debate Who Goes Where

Russell FikeCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Offensive coordinator Todd Haley of the Arizona Cardinals takes the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Steelers won 27-23. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The average fan finds the preseason to be utterly meaningless.  For a handful of athletes in the camp of every NFL team the preseason is the stage for a ferocious, intense battle.  Rookies, veteran journeymen, and the occasional local-hero walk on are in the fight for roster spots. 

Kansas City has several position battles playing out in the final two weeks of the preseason.  This article will provide three points of examination to help Kansas City fans enjoy the remainder of the preseason.

Now there are two kinds of position battles.  One is the struggle to simply make the roster.  Most of these guys have to make plays in special teams while also showing the ability to fill in on either side of the ball should catastrophe strike any starters.  Second, are the players lobbying for a higher spot on the depth chart.

What’s great about the preseason is that fans can choose what storylines they want to follow.  Beyond who wins or loses, a devoted fan has a “choose your own adventure novel” of stories to look out for.  This is just a few of them. 

Examination I: Players who are fun to watch in the preseason, are likely to make the team, and you’ll be proud to recognize for the few plays a game he takes the field. 

Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Andy Studebaker played very strong football against the Texans in week one of the preseason, but was largely inactive against the Vikings in game two due to a minor injury. 

The transition to the 3-4 defense in Kansas City opens doors for players built like the 6-3, 248 pound Studebaker to fill one of the extra linebacker spots and the coaching staff likes the guy. 

Middle Linebacker Corey Mays has had a lot of time with the first team defense in the absence of NFL dinosaur and tackle machine Zach Thomas.  Thomas is part of the Pioli influx of veterans.

Thomas is a seven-time pro-bowler, but is on the downside of his career.  The emergence of Mays allows for a nice rotation to pair with Derrick Johnson as the Middle Line Backing duo in the 3-4. 

Examination 2: Which one makes the cut?

Does quarterback Tyler Thigpen still have a home on this team?  Thigpen had a touchdown in the Chiefs preseason opener, but didn’t take a single snap against the Vikings in game two. 

Instead, presumptive Chiefs’ starting quarterback, Matt Cassel’s backup in New England, Matt Gutierrez took duty as the Chief’s No. 3 quarterback.  Is Thigpen, last year’s starter, simply trusted to be talented enough to step in if needed, or, does Coastal Carolina’s only NFL athlete have his days numbered?

Is there room on the team for both Running Backs Jackie Battle and Dantrell Savage?  Both were signed by the Chiefs as undrafted free agents.  Battle came out of Houston and got a contract in 2007.  Savage came out of Oklahoma State and signed in 2008.  Kansas City fans may remember Battle for having a touchdown on his first NFL carry, but his potential appears limited. 

Savage has evolved more as a player.  Initially showing an upright, lanky running style that is prone to injury and fumbles, Savage has shown better tendencies this preseason.  Besides, how can you not like the name Savage for a football player?

Examination 3: Who is the starter?

What’s the order of the Chiefs’ Wide Receiver hierarchy?  In terms of talent, Dwayne Bowe is the indisputable No. 1 receiver, but Head Coach Todd Haley has questioned Bowe’s work ethic, the reliability of his hands, and most of all his unwillingness to block in the run game. 

As a result Haley demoted Bowe to the number three receiver spot.  Against the Texans Bowe was active in aiding the run game and by season start he will be catching the majority of Cassel’s passes. 

The Chiefs’ No. 2 receiver job is up for grabs.  A number of veterans could emerge.  Last year’s No.  2 receiver Mark Bradley should vie for significant playing time.  As will recent veteran acquisitions Amani Toomer, the Giants’ all time leader in yardage, and journeyman Bobby Engram, who had some strong years with the Seattle Seahawks

Finally, the Chiefs signed former Denver Bronco and Hawaii Rainbow Warrior jump-ball specialist Ashley Lelie prior to the Vikings game and he may become a key red zone option in the absence of former Chiefs Pro Bowl Tight End Tony Gonzalez. 

Finally, rookie Quinten Lawrence, a sixth round draft pick out of McNeese State, has shown promise and is likely to make the team.

The rotation of this mixed bag, and the distribution of snaps and looks, is anyone’s guess at this stage of the game.  In fact Haley’s background as a Wide Receiver coach leaves the possibility of incorporating all these talents a very real possibility. 

Fans will have the opportunity to choose favorites in this horse race.

Lastly, Right Tackle Barry Richardson is strongly challenging incumbent starter Damion McIntosh to line up with the first team offense.  Richardson, last year’s sixth round pick out of Clemson is a youngster challenging the aging McIntosh. 

The team was quick to demote McIntosh to Right Tackle with the emergence of Branden Albert at the Left Tackle spot and it’s very possible he will continue to slide down the depth chart.  The question remains though, is Richardson truly a better option?