We finally made it to real-ish football.
Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs will return to the scene of their January crime and issue in the Patrick Mahomes era to a half-filled Arrowhead Stadium for a preseason matchup against the Houston Texans.
I can’t tell how what my emotions are for this game. Going back and watching the preseason last year, it looked absolutely nothing like what we saw in Week 1 at New England. But that’s not to say there aren’t things to be watching!
Here are five things I’ll have my eye on:
1. Is this a crash course for Patrick Mahomes?
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid will be navigating the health, confidence and preparation of the young quarterback throughout the next month. It’s easier said than done. I’m curious to see how much they put on his plate. Do they want him to get more live reps with protection adjustments, check-with-mes, audibles, cadence, etc.? Last year, in the preseason, they asked Mahomes to simply identify the Mike linebacker to set protections. That was about the extent of it.
Do they want to maximize this time with things that they will need him to do this season by going through some simple adjustments to get more experience with the mechanics of the position?
Denver is sugaring the A gaps showing pressure. Mahomes is alert to nickel blitz as well, slides the protection. He's responsible for the left edge defender now if he comes. Edge comes, Denver out leveraged. Sherman gets 7.99 yards on 3rd and 8. pic.twitter.com/I0eKmp5XvR— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 3, 2018
The Chiefs want Mahomes to stay healthy, get experience and have a little success in the next three games all while maximizing the opportunities they have to prepare him for what is required. If they trust he can handle it all, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them give him a tad more responsibility Thursday night than we typically see in preseason game No. 1.
2. Does Sammy Watkins play, and do they force feed him touches?
I think Watkins needs to be on the field Thursday night if at all possible. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill have been the two main targets for Mahomes in camp so far, which is to be expected with the experience they have both in Reid’s offense and with the quarterback.
Mahomes to Watkins. pic.twitter.com/A7FKbyZ0vk— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) July 29, 2018
Much like Mahomes, the Chiefs are working to get Watkins up and ready for the start of the season. His involvement/role seems to have tapered off a little compared to Kelce and Hill based on the reports out of St. Joseph.
While that was to be expected, the Chiefs should force-feed Watkins Thursday night to get him involved. There’s more mystery surrounding Watkins’ usage than the other two, and I would like to see additional attention to the new weapon in the offense. If Watkins plays, I want to see if the Chiefs are intentional about continuing to forge the bond between Mahomes and Watkins.
3. Who sits and how do their replacements do?
You would imagine they will be cautious Thursday night with who they put on the field. I’m interested in who they play it safe with and what that could tell us about their health. Whoever does sit, I’m looking forward to seeing less established players getting to work in with the first unit in a live situation in their stead. Players consistently working with the second unit are going to be given a chance to earn more trust and help solidify their spots.
Who will give the team and fans more confidence in their talent? The depth I’m most interested in examining is at the safety position. Eric Murray, Armani Watts, Robert Golden and Jordan Sterns can do with Sorensen (and possibly Eric Berry?) missing Thursday night’s matchup.
4. The EDGE position outside of Justin Houston
The defense will go as the pass rush does this season. There wasn’t enough affecting the quarterback in 2017. The Chiefs have the potential for excellent depth and competition opposite of Houston. Dee Ford is back and healthy, and if he can approach his 2016 production could be in line for a nice payday next year. Tanoh Kpassagnon has impressed me in my trips to St. Joe. He looks more fluid, agile and comfortable as a standup EDGE. Breeland Speaks is transitioning to a full time outside role and has a skill set that can play as he continues to develop. Seeing promise from two or all three of these players should bring optimism heading into the regular season.
5. How will the Lottery Tickets do?
I’ve maintained throughout the offseason that the Chiefs need to develop depth that will be under club control past 2018. Players like Mitch Morse, Chris Conley, Ford, Steven Nelson, Spencer Ware, Cameron Erving, David Amerson and Demetrius Harris among others are in contract years.
While none of these players may be major losses, the sum of the parts is substantial. Being able to hit on undrafted free agents would be a huge step in replenishing the talent for 2019 and beyond.
Several of the players I’ve discussed this summer have flashed in training camp:
Arrion Springs has been running with the second-team defense.
#LotteryTickets Springs Big Play 3/3: Third down and the game for Oregon. Need a stop to get the ball back. Springs steps up for a PBU on the slant. pic.twitter.com/wRMzc8RgaX— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 24, 2018
Darrel Williams has held his own among the running backs (and fellow Williamses).
#LotteryTickets Darrel Williams shows good vision, decisiveness and a little agility here on a big run against Alabama. Long speed isn't great, but that's okay. pic.twitter.com/5VxSR57yIA— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 10, 2018
Ryan Hunter saw time at left guard with the first team in OTAs.
Ryan Hunter played guard early in his career. A little late to release on the screen, but great effort to finish with a big block. pic.twitter.com/rZGUnmAGft— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 13, 2018
Chase Litton has impressed me so far in training camp.
#LotteryTickets Here's the tight view of that throw from Litton. There's something to work with here. pic.twitter.com/4a72zGO16l— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 8, 2018
There are several other players worth keeping an eye on at the bottom of the roster.
Someone outside of these four players will make his presence known Thursday night as well.
If a few of these guys earn the trust of the coaching staff and make it on the active roster, it could be nice boost to the depth for the future.