Kansas City Chiefs: 5 Areas Fans Should Keep an Eye on This Friday
Throughout the offseason, there were doubts that football fans would not have the opportunity to see any games this season. Now the Chiefs are less than 72 hours away from hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium on Red Friday!
With that said, the preseason games obviously don't count. However, they do matter to coaches as they use this time to closely evaluate their players.
A prodigious performance can't be taken seriously in these exhibition games. A coach will appreciate the effort and the player will earn a spot on 53-man roster. An execrable game from a starter in the preseason isn't anything to lose sleep over, but it could hurt a backup who is fighting for a spot on the team as opposed to starters who have already proven themselves.
The key thing to remember is that the players who benefit the most from these games are rookies who need to get their feet wet and get acclimated to the professional level of football. It will also help newcomers who did not play for the team last season while they learn a new system.
As always, let me know your thoughts.
Who Will Step Up at Outside Linebacker Opposite of Tamba Hali?
Mike Vrabel's retirement opened the door for three players. Andy Studebaker, Cameron Sheffield and rookie Justin Houston all have a good chance at winning the job.
Studebaker is best known for earning two intercepts against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the middle of the 2009 season. Chiefs fans were ecstatic for his performance, but Studebaker hasn't received a lot of face time at the outside linebacker position and hasn't had much of an opportunity to repeat his success. He's been more involved with special teams than he has on defense. Studebaker received a contract extension after Week 1 of last season and has the most experience out of the three linebackers. He is currently the favorite to win the battle and start in Week 1 of the regular season.
Sheffield's rookie season wasn't a memorable one. In Week 3 of the preseason in 2010, Sheffield suffered a neck injury when he collided with running back Mike Bell, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles at the time. That was Sheffield's final play of his short-lived rookie season. Sheffield received a lot of attention during the Senior Bowl when he was trying to make a name for himself in front of NFL scouts. The Chiefs know they have an ingenious player in Sheffield, but what is most important is that he gets himself through the preseason so he can make his regular season debut.
Houston showed up late to training camp due to his agent refusing to sign until the new league year began. The late arrival hurt the Chiefs because this was their first defensive player drafted in the offseason. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Houston receives on Friday against Tampa Bay.
Will Jonathan Baldwin, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Ubran Help Dwayne Bowe?
This year, the Chiefs will have first-round rookie Jonathan Baldwin, free agent Steve Breaston and returning injured reserve player Jerheme Urban all hoping to help the Chiefs improve in the passing game.
In the unofficial depth chart released by the Chiefs Tuesday morning, many were surprised to see that Urban was listed first opposite of Dwayne Bowe.
With Chris Chambers released, Matt Cassel hopes to have a better core of receivers to work with in 2011.
The good news is the shift to Kansas City shouldn't be a grueling task for Breaston and Urban as both of them played under Haley's offense in Arizona. Urban also played in Dallas during the 2006 season when Haley was the receivers coach. They know what Haley expects from them and how to play in the offense that the Chiefs run.
Baldwin will be mentored by multiple players who know the offense. It shouldn't be difficult for him to adapt with all of Haley's players working with him. What's most important is that he and Cassel get a chance to work together this Friday against Tampa Bay's defense.
Can Jon Asamoah Step Up and Help the Chiefs' Offensive Line Succeed?
In the first week of training camp, the Chiefs announced that they released Brian Waters. This allowed Ryan Lilja to play the left guard position he played in Indianapolis. The Chiefs like what they're seeing right now out of Jon Asamoah in the right guard position, who started in one game last year for the Chiefs during his rookie season.
Asamoah filled in for Lilja in Week 8 against Buffalo and helped the Chiefs amass 274 yards on the ground. Asamoah will be given a lot of playing time this year in the preseason and should feel prepared going into the regular season on September 11th.
Asamoah should be watched closely this Friday against the Buccaneers when he'll be battling defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Ron Miller.
Can Mr. Irrelevant Be More Relevant?
When the Chiefs were given the final selection of the 2009 draft, many fans assumed that this player would only last one season. However, the Chiefs used this draft pick wisely and took a kicker in Ryan Succop. Kickers and punters tend to hang longer careers as opposed to players in other positions, so that was a smart move by Scott Pioli and company.
In Succop's two years as a Chief, he has successfully made 81 percent of his field goals. Succop has made two game-winning field goals in overtime and has been the only Chief to score in a couple of games since he arrived from the University of South Carolina.
In the two preseasons Succop has participated in with the Chiefs, he has made 71 percent of his field goals.
Succop has not choked when it comes to attempting an extra point or a chip-shot field goal. Where Succop struggles the most is from 50 yards out, where he has attempted eight kicks and has made only 38 percent of them.
Kicking field goals in OTAs, training camp and in the preseason isn't any different than kicking a field goal in the regular season. Judging a kicker for his performance in the preseason is the easiest to make.
I'd like to see the Chiefs have possession of the football on fourth down a few times this year in the preseason and let Succop help the Chiefs get some points on the board. If Succop can split the uprights by nailing some long-range field goals, he could receive some fantasy love and compete with the best in the regular season.
How Will Dexter McCluster Be Used?
In his NFL preseason debut in 2010 against Atlanta, Dexter McCluster was active on the offense, catching three passes and carrying the ball five times. My first impression was that he would become a three-dimensional player, provided that he would eventually return some kicks and punts as well—something he did not do against Atlanta.
In the 11 games he played in during his rookie season, he caught 21 passes and carried the ball 18 times. He also took back 26 kickoffs and 13 punts as a returner.
Regardless of the numbers he produced, it's likely that the Chiefs will make McCluster their most active player this year. McCluster received a lot of hype while being drafted in the second round out of the University of Mississippi. Chiefs fans were excited to see McCluster's speed and see him team up with Jamaal Charles.
Javier Arenas may handle most of the returning duties, which would allow McCluster to focus more on his offensive duties.
Against Jacksonville in Week 7, McCluster had his busiest game as a Chief, despite having to leave the game early due to injury. McCluster carried the ball four times and caught five passes to help the Chiefs move the chains throughout the game.
Later that week, the Chiefs learned that McCluster suffered a high ankle sprain and went on to miss five games.
This season, McCluster hopes to remain healthy and use his speed to help the Chiefs move on offense and set them up with good field position as a returner when he is given the chance.
With McCluster's gifted speed and athleticism, the Chiefs must take advantage and use him as an offensive weapon. Keep an eye on him this Friday and see how much he contributes on offense and special teams.