Any preseason contest comes with a question how much — or even if — the starters will play. Speaking after Wednesday’s practice, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid appeared indecisive on the issue.
“The ‘ones’ might get a little bit of time,” Reid predicted. “I’m still working through that. The ‘ones’ will probably get a little bit of time — and then the twos and threes will take it from there.”
The NFL adopted the current schedule of only three preseason games in 2021. Reid’s use of his starters in the third exhibition of the 2021 and 2022 seasons could not have been approached more differently.
In 2021’s third exhibition game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the field against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead. His first drive went 79 yards. It featured three carries by running back Jerick McKinnon and a 28-yard pass to tight end Travis Kelce before it finished big with a 35-yard touchdown throw to now-Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
Shockingly, Mahomes took the field for the second drive, too. In that one, the offense would march 75 yards for a second touchdown.
After that, backup passer Shane Buechele finished the game.
The starting offense — including linemen — were finished after the second possession. No starter played more than 15 snaps. But that was in stark contrast to 2022’s third preseason game.
The Green Bay Packers were the opponent in Week 3 . Records show Mahomes and Kelce took the field as starters. In truth, they only appeared long enough for an on-field tribute to the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson, who had died the day before. They left the game after a delay-of-game penalty was called following a ceremonial “choir” huddle.
While Mahomes and Kelce officially recorded no snaps against Green Bay, the starting offensive line stayed in the game for the first 15 plays.
In both preseason finales, defensive starters appeared on the first two drives. That made for a very short night in 2022, as Green Bay was held to two three-and-outs. Some defensive regulars registered 12 snaps against the Vikings in 2021 because of a nine-play opening drive that resulted in a field goal.
Truthfully, there is simply not enough data about Reid’s tendencies in managing a three-game preseason to confidently predict how he will manage his personnel on Saturday. It seems a safe bet that the starting offensive line and most of the defensive starters will get a little bit of work — and they may be the players Reid referred to as “the ones.”
It might be that the second preseason game determines whether Reid thinks the starters need work in the third. Against Minnesota in 2021, the Chiefs were coming off a sloppy second game against the Arizona Cardinals in which the starting offense could not find the end zone. In 2022’s second preseason game against the Washington Commanders, the starting offense looked unstoppable as they scored a pair of first-quarter touchdowns.
So the Chiefs starters finding their groove against the Cardinals last Saturday would probably be a sign that Reid does not need to see Mahomes and Kelce this week.
But Saturday will also mark the only Chiefs’ home preseason game in 2023 — just like in 2021, when Mahomes and Kelce were both on the field for actual plays. So while it’s probably a safe bet that Mahomes and Kelce will sit, it also wouldn’t be shocking for Reid to give them a series in front of the home crowd.
Whatever happens, Mahomes will be ready — and has no problem deferring the decision to the head coach who is entering his 25th season leading a sideline.
“I just prepare myself every week,” the quarterback declared on Wednesday. “I prepare myself to play. I get the reps in there — and I follow Coach Reid’s lead. He’s done this for a long time. He knows what’s needed every single year in order to go in and play well at the beginning of the year.
“That’s why his record is so good at the beginning of the season. I’m preparing myself to play — and if I get that call, then I’ll go out there and play and execute at a high level. And then I’ll try to prepare myself to just be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.”