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Chiefs-Bengals preview: Mecole Hardman’s first look

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The AP Nerd Squad highlights what to watch in Saturday night’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve made it! It’s finally (sort of) game day!

The Kansas City Chiefs begin their run at a Super Bowl with a preseason bout with the Cincinnati Bengals. The starters are expected to play roughly a quarter tonight, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of storylines and things to monitor. On this week’s game preview edition of the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory, we talked about three things on offense and defense we’re paying attention to.

Offense

Mecole Hardman’s debut

Hardman has come on strong in St. Joseph, connecting with Patrick Mahomes on several plays down the field. We’re excited to see if it can translate against another team. There was an obvious trend with how and where on the field Hardman was having success: downfield. We’re looking to see if the rest of his game has developed—specifically his release at the line of scrimmage and how developed his route tree is.

Running back competition

Damien Williams has missed most of training camp, but the likes of Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson haven’t seemed to capitalize on the opportunity. Who shows up on Saturday night? Andy Reid hinted there may be a committee approach to the running back position this season. With Damien Williams slated to get the biggest share, how it plays out behind him will start to be settled Saturday night.

First and second-team interior offensive line

This may be especially nerdy, but we’re looking forward to seeing how the chemistry of the first unit is looking. The foot traffic along the interior and how the space which that group moves together in matters in the run game. We’ll see how that’s shaping up Saturday night. Also, who is on the second-team line? The seventh, eighth, ninth (and possibly 10th if they keep that many) offensive line spots still remain to be seen.

Defense

Fall of Spags begins

Matt and Craig have spent all summer breaking down the intricacies of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Saturday night, we get our first taste of what it looks like in Kansas City. It’ll probably be basic looks, but we’re looking forward to see what those are and how the new players function within them. If the communication is good and there aren’t any obvious busts with the first and second units, that’s a good start.

Linebackers moving

Last year, the linebacker group was tasked with some run-fit assignments that slowed them down. You’ve heard several players talk about how Spagnuolo’s scheme allows them to play fast. We want to see what an underwhelming unit last year looks like in a system that probably better suits them.

The cornerback competition

Morris Claiborne has been added to the mix. He’ll be looking over the shoulder of the likes of Charvarius Ward, Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller for the rest of the preseason and the first four weeks of the regular season. Competition is important for this group, and Claiborne helps that. Claiborne may not play Saturday, but it will be the first live-action opportunity for the rest of the unit to go up against receivers outside of their teammates. Let’s see who makes a good impression.

Arrowhead Pride Laboratory

We went into further detail on these storylines, broke down Claiborne and listed players we’re looking forward to watching on the game preview edition of the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory.