As the Kansas City Chiefs close out the preseason in Arrowhead, with mostly backups on the field versus the Titans, it’d be easy to write this game off as one that doesn’t matter. For a couple dozen players trying to win jobs, whether on KC’s roster or another team, this is the last big showcase of the preseason. It matters to them.
It’ll be the most number of snaps available for backups and rookies to develop and make an impression. I’d argue there are less than five spots available on the 53-man roster, and a few practice squad jobs that could be at least partially decided Thursday night.
Below are a few things we’ll be watching for. As always, feel free to add yours in the comments.
Who is (and isn’t) playing?
Many (or all) of the starters won’t play at all but will some of the guys coming back from injury get a few snaps just to get ready for the season? Will Reggie Ragland and Cameron Erving get a chance to get on the field within their first few days as Chiefs? Of the second to fourth string players, some won’t play, which means the Chiefs likely are trying to pass them through waivers and don’t want to risk injury or give them too much exposure for other teams’ scouts.
TEs Gavin Escobar, Ross Travis or Orson Charles?
These three guys are competing for one or two jobs behind Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris. I think it’s safe to say that none of them have really blown anyone away this offseason. I would expect all three to get significant time on Thursday, and I’ll be watching to see if any of them can assert themselves as a blocker and a reliable target to round out the depth chart.
RBs Charcandrick West or CJ Spiller?
Both are on the roster as things stand today, but it will be interesting to see how they look in this game anyway. If West is running as hard as he did last week with similar results, he could be in line for an increased role when the season starts. If Spiller can make an impact in the kicking game and passing game, he could further solidify his position on the depth chart.
WRs Demarcus Robinson, Seantavius Jones or Marcus Kemp ... maybe Gehrig Dieter?
It’s the “battle” of the Minicamp star vs. training camp star vs. preseason stars. It’s entirely possible that the roster spots are already decided at wide receiver. These four guys are still ones to watch. Robinson may need to show something this week to avoid being among the biggest disappointments of camp, and could be a surprising cut. Dieter is the least likely of the four to make the active roster, but he’s been productive enough to really open some doors for himself. Jones missed last week with an injury. If he’s able to get back on the field, he could win a job with his offensive ability. If not, he could be this year’s mystery IR candidate to stash for next season.
The momentum would appear to be on Kemp’s side at this point, given his special teams ability and his chemistry with Patrick Mahomes. If Kemp makes some plays on offense this week, he’ll be tough for the Chiefs to cut.
Can the Chiefs reserves put pressure on the QB?
Assuming Justin Houston and Dee Ford don’t play, we’ll get another long look at the backups and rookies at outside linebacker. Earl Okine has flashed at times, and could be a guy worth developing. Marcus Rush is a longshot, but has been productive in preseason action before. Tanoh Kpassagnon might play, just to get some additional experience, as he’s working in multiple positions. Watch for progress from the massive rookie. If he learns how to play to his physical abilities early in his career, watch out. The guys competing in the secondary certainly will be rooting for some pass rush pressure to make them look good.
LBs Ukeme Eligwe, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Reggie Ragland?
The inside linebacker position, after starters Ramik Wilson and Derrick Johnson, is all about upside. Watch KPL get more experience in the defense this week, while Eligwe continues his own development. We’re not sure that newly acquired Reggie Ragland will play this week, but if he does it will be a golden opportunity to see him in action before the season starts.
QB Patrick Mahomes
The QBoTF gets his most extensive playing time yet, and his first start. We’d like to see him continue his progression in the offense, make some conventional plays in the pocket, avoid mistakes and turnovers, and of course, wow us with at least a couple of crazy throws on the run. Backup QBs don’t get a ton of reps during the regular season barring injury, so Mahomes will need to make the most of his last preseason game appearance.
Limit the mistakes
The Chiefs preseason games have been riddled with penalties and (at times) dropped passes. Even without the starters, it would be good to see that the team can put together a ‘clean’ game. This week should be a showcase of the depth of this roster, and an opportunity for some young guys to put pressure on the starters. Playing well, and showing that they belong on the field would help ratchet up the excitement for week one.