Editor's Note: I have been working on this off-and-on all day, and upon posting this just saw Direckshun's eerily similar posting. Sorry for the somewhat monotonous read, for that reason and potentially others... ;)
Tomorrow night is the Chiefs' first actual football game since last December. The Chiefs haven't walked off of a football field victorious since October, and have walked off the losers in 17 of the last 21 games (going back to the playoff loss to Indianapolis in 2006 and including preseason games last year). 4-17 is a pathetic record, a record that the Chiefs will look to improve on Thursday night.
And while it would certainly be nice to actually win a football game, and soon, (Nick Athan of WPI even called it a 'must') there are more important things that will happen tomorrow night than winning and losing. Yes, yes, I know, this team "needs to learn how to win" and all that junk. But frankly, I am much more concerned with the actual development of actual football players, as opposed to winning a game that means nothing. Now do I want to win? Of course. But if given the choice between having our soon-to-be-cut third stringers come back from way behind to steal a victory against a horrible-playing Bears team and watching Brodie Croyle and the starters play really well, only to watch the third-stringers blow it at the end and lose, I'll take the latter. Call me New School. With that said, here are the ten most important things to watch for in the game; in other words, what to keep your eye on the closest.
#10) Pat Thomas and Napoleon Harris
Just a week-or-so ago, Pat Thomas replaced Napoleon Harris in the starting lineup as the starting MLB. With Gunther residing over both the LBers and the entire defense, the only way that Napoleon Harris gets back into the starting lineup (and quite possibly back on the team off the cut list) is to thoroughly out play Pat Thomas. It will be interesting to watch to see how:
a) Pat Thomas responds to his first career start at MLB. Hopefully, he can at least be a halfway decent one-year-stopgap before we acquire a longterm answer (Ray Mauluaga anyone?) this offseason.
b) Napoleon Harris responds to being a backup for the first time in his Chiefs career. If he has a fire lit under his ass, we could have quite the little linebacker crew. If not, and Pat Thomas doesn't pan out, we could be in for a worse defense than last season.
#9) Connor Barth and Nick Novak
The kicker battle will be an interesting to watch all preseason, not only with the missed and made field goals but also with the kickoff game. Odds are, they are pretty equal on the field goals, and whoever can kickoff the ball more to Herm's liking will get the nod. Which direction we are leaning right now is unknown; Novak was stronger the first week-or-so of camp but Barth has been better since. Novak has NFL experience, but we haven't overvalued NFL experience over young potential in any other position, and I bet that we give Barth the nod. Unless, of course, he chokes like Medlock did last season.
#8) Wide Receivers Besides D-Bowe
There shouldn't be a battle for the #1 WR position for a long time, hopefully, but the man who lines up opposite D-Bowe is still up in the air. It will most likely be Devard Darling, but it will also be interesting to see how Will Franklin, the rookie, and blog-favorite Bobby Sippio fare in a chance to sneak up the depth chart. Sippio might need a fantastic preseason to even make the team, while Franklin will likely line up on Opening Day at the slot.
#7) Jackie Battle
All indications are that Jackie Battle has had a fantastic training camp thus far, and if he is going to force Herm Edwards' hand enough to keep 4 RBs, he will have to perform equally as dominant in the preseason.
#6) Tank Tyler
With Glenn Dorsey out, we will have to devote out attention on his replacement, Tank Tyler. Tyer supposedly lost 30 pounds this offseason and has been a much better player this camp than he was last year. Even when the Big Glenn Dorsement comes back, it will be nice to have another really nice big body who can play in the rotation.
#5) Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers
Of all of the stuff I've read over training camp, I've been most excited over the performance of the two young, rookie corners. How they perform in the preseason, however, will be more important than any WPI practice report. Especially Brandon Carr, who could steal the starting spot from Pat Surtain with a really strong preseason.
#4) Barry Richardson and the Second String O-Liners
As inexperienced as our first unit is, the second unit is even moreso. Honestly, unless someone comes out of (mostly) nowhere to majorly impress in the preseason, I am going to cringe whenever a starter gets hurt. There is some talent there, for sure (namely Barry Richardson and, when Albert is healthy, Herb Taylor), but it is even more inexperienced than the four-fifths-new first unit. Richardson, as long as we show him his movie of hsi preference, has a chance to be a real player in the league, and that all starts Thursday night, where he might even see some action with the first team if Damion McIntosh doesn't go the whole way.
#3) Tamba Hali and Brian Johnston
Tamba Hali has struggled incredibly thus far in his adjustment to the RDE position, and tomorrow night would be as good of a time as any to show that he can stick there. If not, and if The Next Jared Allen (minus the alcohol problem), aka Brian Johnston, is as impressive as I think he will be, I wouldn't be against putting Johnston in the starting lineup and sliding Hali back over to LDE, his more natural fit. In either case, it will be imperative that at least one of them shows up in a big way tomorrow night, likely for at least part of the game against ex-Chief John Tait.
#2) Herb Taylor and the First String O-Liners
With Branden Albert almost assuredly missing at least the season opener against New England, Herb Taylor will have to step up and at least provide 2007-Damion-McIntosh-level pass protection. If not, the opening to Brodie Croyle's make-or-break season will likely be an outright disaster. The rest of the newly-bonded offensive line will need to play as well, but play particular close attention to Mr. Taylor.
#1) Brodie Croyle
As with every other preseason game and every regular season game, the most important player is Brodie Croyle. The pieces are in place for a halfway respectable finish this year and a playoff push next year, it all depends on whether Brodie can lead us there or not. This entire season is about all of the Chiefs rebuilding for a playoff push in the near future and a potential Super Bowl run on the horizon, and the key to that (for the time being, at least) is one Brodie Croyle. That's all. The QB is, by an extremely large margin, the most important player on the field. The Chiefs have never developed a QB that they drafted. Those two facts go a long way to pointing out why we have only one Super Bowl in our nearly 50 year existence. If Brodie can be that guy, we really aren't that far away from being relevant again. The NFL is cool like that, always good for quick turnover between being dominant-to-bad and vice versa, unless you are the Patriots, Colts or Cardinals. But if Brodie isn't the answer, and flops flat on his face, they we have to start a large portion of the process all over again next year.
Not to sound too morose, but the entire fanbase and organization is effectively depending on Brodie Croyle to lead us to the Promised Land.
I can't believe football is only a single day away. Wow. Best news in a long time. Even if we play like crap, it won't be all that bad, because at least we went out and played a frickin' football game.
Gosh, I can't wait.