clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 things to watch in Chiefs’ preseason opener against the Saints

Are you ready for some (exhibition) football?

NFL: DEC 20 Chiefs at Saints Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are still 26 days away from the Kansas City Chiefs opening the 2023 NFL season against the Detroit Lions. In the meantime, the Chiefs will play three preseason games, starting on Sunday at noon against the New Orleans Saints in Caesars Superdome.

The last time the Chiefs entered a season as the reigning Super Bowl champions, they didn't have a preseason to gear up for the title defense; the COVID pandemic forced the league to cancel all exhibition games in 2020.

That team went 14-2, built around the theme of "run it back," but this year's Chiefs have a more significant roster turnover than 2020. It may make the preseason more necessary as the team's new pieces assimilate with the incumbents.

On Sunday, the starters may only get a drive or two on either side, but they'll be plenty to pay attention to all afternoon. Here are five things to watch in the opening exhibition game:

1. Who pops on the defensive line?

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This becomes the natural focus point in wake of defensive tackle Chris Jones' holdout, combined with the six-game suspension for defensive lineman Charles Omenihu.

First, who can step into Omenihu's place as the best inside-rushing complement with Jones? It's likely the strong defensive ends get those looks, especially with defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton sidelined. Malik Herring has been an inside rusher with the starters in camp, while Mike Danna has provided that in years past.

Wharton and Jones' absence should also leave rookie defensive tackle Keondre Coburn plenty of looks. The big nose tackle has shown off some movement skills in camp that suggest he may be used to doing more than just plug gaps.

In general, this team needs as much pass-rush excitement as they can get. Defensive ends George Karlaftis and Felix Anudike-Uzomah should have all eyes on them, but rookie B.J. Thompson will also be worth zoning in on. He'll put pressure on offensive tackles with his rush speed, but can he hold up enough physically on the edge to be on the field in September?

2. How wide receivers are deployed

Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are many intriguing, newer names to follow among the wide receivers — but what about each is noteworthy? Let's lay it out:

  • Justyn Ross has forced his way onto 53-man roster projections by being a reliable sideline target for quarterback Patrick Mahomes in practice, but can we see more? His deep speed will be worth monitoring if he has enough of it to put real pressure on safeties (Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Justin Watson can). Also, his ability to create quick separation on in-breaking routes will be important.
  • Rookie Rashee Rice has a chance to contribute early by being an impressive blocker from the slot. He has also shown he can take jet-sweep handoffs. Watch to see how many different ways Rice can help the offense.
  • How much of a drop-off in dynamic playmaking is there from the injured Kadarius Toney to wide receiver Richie James? They are similar stylistically.
  • Undrafted rookie Nikko Remigio has impressed Chiefs Kingdom at camp. At 5 feet 9 and 183 pounds, he'll be used as a slot receiver and a punt returner with the second or third-team units.

3. Alignment of defensive backs

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In training camp, the Chiefs have used second-year cornerback Trent McDuffie in the slot a lot more than they did last year. It pushes cornerback L'Jarius Sneed to the outside, where he may not have the same impact he has had in years' past.

Either way, Sneed is not participating in the game on Sunday — but pay attention to McDuffie's ability to do multiple things as that Nickel defender. Will he be willing to help fill against the run, like Sneed was? Will he be as quick to shut down passes to the flat? Can he be a similarly-effective blitzer?

I'll also examine how safeties Justin Reid and Bryan Cook are deployed. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo referred to Cook as needing to be the quarterback of the defense, meaning he will likely be free safety the majority of the time. Watch and see if Reid looks faster to the ball this year as that chess piece around the line of scrimmage.

4. A new piece in the starting offense?

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

When the Chiefs' starting offense is on the field, even if the rest of the unit goes further than quarterback Patrick Mahomes, keep an eye on a particular newcomer.

Undrafted rookie running back Deneric Prince wouldn't stop showing off his receiving skills in practices this offseason, which were more impressive given the context that he is 6 feet tall and 216 pounds. The team has given him a ton of looks in training camp and a lot of them in pass situations.

Based on his physical size, the team wants to utilize what projects to be a balance of reliable catching and strong pass protection. If he is given a target with the starters, that tells you they're ready to get him rolling right now.

5. Traditional two-back formations

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It has been a tradition in Chiefs' preseason games under head coach Andy Reid to be very, very vanilla with the offense. Reid works from the scheme's very foundation, which always resulted in plenty of traditional, 21 personnel sets (formations that have a fullback and a halfback).

As has been well documented, the team doesn't have a fullback this year, so does that signal Reid's schematic foundation has officially evolved? Or will we see tight ends Noah Gray or Blake Bell in three-point stances on Sunday?

If so, watch Gray as he latches onto a defender. He has taken many steps as a player heading into Year 3, but the blocking may be what has grown the most.

NEW: Join Arrowhead Pride Premier

If you love Arrowhead Pride, you won’t want to miss Pete Sweeney in your inbox each week as he delivers deep analysis and insights on the Chiefs' path to the Super Bowl.