This coming Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs will have to have their roster down to 53 players. The 80 now on the squad have just one opportunity — this Friday evening’s final preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium — to play their way into the season opener against the Cleveland Browns on September 12.
So when reporters met with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and special teams coordinator Dave Toub on Tuesday, they wanted to know which new Chiefs players will make the final cut.
“Everybody needs to have a good showing,” declared Toub of Friday’s game. “There are guys that you might think are easy ins right now. They’re still fighting — I mean, it’s not over. That’s the thing that I tell them: the decision’s not made until this last game is done [and] we get down to 53. They’ve got to keep fighting — everybody. There are a lot of positions that are still open right now.”
Bieniemy didn’t really even want to talk about it.
“I don’t want to release anybody, you know?” he chuckled. “That’s the tough part about being in this position, because not only do you get attached to the player — because we spend so much time with them — but also, you get attached to the person. There are relationships that are developed here. So it’s hard watching those guys leave. But I understand that [in] the profession that we chose, those tough decisions have to be made.”
But it’s also true that with two preseason games already in the books, new Chiefs such as fourth-year cornerback Mike Hughes might be on an inside track.
“I think Mike’s done a nice job,” said Spagnuolo of the former first-round pick who will likely start as the slot corner against his former team on Friday. “Obviously, you can see that we feel that way because he’s been working with the first group a lot. I think Deandre Baker’s still kind of working through that injury. That was a tough one. But I think he’s getting better. BoPete Keyes is showing some bright spots. Chris Lammons is doing a terrific job on special teams. It’s good to have a bunch of guys to work with — and [to] pick from — but we’ve still got a little bit of [a] ways [to go]. Then we’ll figure it out next week.”
Bieniemy had plenty to say about second-round rookie center Creed Humphrey.
“Creed is a unique individual that plays hard,” said the former running back. “He does a heckuva job of making things happen. And on top of that, he can run in space. So I love what Creed brings to the table. I like the fact that he and Patrick Mahomes are developing a chemistry; they’re doing a lot of communicating. He’s doing a great job of making sure that he’s getting the proper information to the O-line. That’s one of the most stressful things about being an offensive center in this business: making the right call.”
Bieniemy was also effusive in praising new wide receiver Daurice Fountain, who leads the team with seven catches for 92 yards in the two exhibition games.
“The only thing Daurice wants to know is what can he do better,” noted Bieniemy. “The biggest thing that (wide receivers coach) Joe Bleymeier, myself and coach Reid have all talked to him about is just making sure that he can fine-tune three little aspects of his game each and every day. The kid works hard. [And] he’s a smart player. And then obviously, you’ve seen the fruits of his labor — because what he’s done in practice is showing up on game day.”
Wide-receiver-turned-tight-end Jody Fortson has been turning heads in training camp (and both games) with the offense. But Toub has liked what he’s seen on special teams, too — saying he wasn’t surprised that Fortson is among those who have increased their value to the team.
“Jody’s setting himself up well,” he observed. “No surprises. But I was just happy to see Jody [do well] — as hard as he worked in the offseason to be able to show it on the field as a holdup guy, blocker and cover guy. It’s good to see.”
And Toub had praise for new Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon, who has also looked good in his offensive snaps — and has been a special teams standout, too.
“I’m not sure how much special teams he’s had in his past, but he’s been playing great for us,” remarked Toub. “The first game, he had the nice hit as a [personal protector]. In the second game, he had the nice block on the punt return — out in front of the returner. Got a knockdown on a big guy. He’s not afraid to stick his head in there. He’s not afraid to do the dirty work — which is good to see with a veteran guy.”
Spagnuolo was more than happy to speak again about second-year defensive end Mike Danna, who has taken another step from his substantial rookie season.
“I’ve talked about Mike a lot,” he said. “I mean, you guys know how I feel about him — his intelligence, his natural ability. I think that what [defensive line coach] Brendan Daly and [defesnsive line assistant] Terry Braden do with him is outstanding. You’re talking about a guy from Central Michigan who went to Michigan for one year — and just he keeps doing this. If he can keep doing that, I think he’s going to help us.”
Spagnuolo also made it clear that he is expecting big things from another second-year Chiefs player: linebacker Wille Gay Jr.
“He loves the game of football,” he exclaimed. “Listen, that guy goes in there — the energy level goes like that. And he’s done things. he’s been working with [linebackers coach] Matt House. Mentally, he’s so far advanced from where he was a year ago. No OTAs [then] — we already talked about that, right? And hopefully, that will have him hit the ground running in Game 1 — and not learning as he goes.”
And he talked about defensive end Joshua Kaindoh.
“I tell you, he’s got some natural ability,” said Spagnuolo of the fourth-round pick. “[He’s] got a ways to go — a young guy. You know, for as big as he is — six feet-5 or six-feet-6, whatever it is; they’re all big to me, right? — he’s a great knee-bender. He can bend — if you watch him — for a big, tall guy. Hopefully, that will translate into some good football. I think Brendan and Terry are doing a good job with him, too.”
But while the makeup of the final roster will be unknown to us until it is released, Toub said that even before Friday’s game, his players would have a good idea about their chances to make the team.
“They know,” he emphasized. “I’m a ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ guy. They know exactly how they stand. They know what they need to do. They know if they need to have a big game or not. There’s no gray area with me. And I think that’s good for the guys to know.”