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How much will L’Jarius Sneed, Kadarius Toney play vs. Lions?

Analyzing the injury situation for both teams opening the 2023 season.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Kansas City Chiefs are mere days away from kicking off the 2023 NFL season against the upstart Detroit Lions at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Both teams are entering the regular season opener with good news on the injury front.

(Editor’s note: For more information on tight end Travis Kelce’s injury that popped on Tuesday, click here).

The first practice of the week for the Chiefs brought the welcome returns of cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who each missed almost the entirety of training camp. Sneed missed camp due to a nagging swollen knee, and Toney was recovering from a surgical procedure for a partially torn meniscus suffered on the first day of training camp.

Head coach Andy Reid stated that both players were “good to go” on Sunday, although later in his media availability did use the dreaded term, “day by day,” in the team’s approach to the player’s rehabs. Both players were listed as limited participants in the first two injury reports of the 2023 season and were seen with compression sleeves on their injured extremities.

Other players returning from injury as full participants were offensive lineman Nick Allegretti with a pectoral injury and cornerback Nic Jones who fractured fingers in the first week of preseason. Both players add important depth to their position groups. Defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton and wide receiver Richie James were limited participants on Monday but upgraded to full on Tuesday.

What can we expect in Week 1?

Toney returning to the practice field and potentially being ready for Week 1 fits with the timeline the team gave when the injury first occurred in July. I wrote last week it was imperative that Toney at least return in a limited capacity to be available this week. Pending any setbacks in his recovery, there is optimism he will be in the lineup for the Chiefs in week 1.

But how much will Toney play?

Throughout the offseason, with the departure of veteran wide receivers Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Toney has been hyped up as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. The team has maintained they will not rush Toney back into the offense and risk aggravating the injury further.

For this reason, Toney will likely be a rotational player againt the Lions (in a very deep wide receiver room). Depth may be a bit more of a concern if James is limited in any capacity for Week 1. On Monday, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said, “We’ll just let the flow of the game dictate how we use him and what we’ll do with him.”

Taking the Chiefs’ own handling of Toney’s previous injuries into account, he gradually worked up to a larger role in the offense when returning from a hamstring injury last season. Injured in Week 10, he returned in Week 14 to play in 6% of the offensive snaps, eventually working up to a 32% workload by Week 16.

Although encouraging Toney has returned to practice, three to four days of limited practice is not a lot considering he has missed six weeks of on-field work.

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

Sneed’s availability on the field is more difficult to forecast, as the information from the Chiefs’ facility has not been forthcoming on the nature of the actual injury. The injury has potentially been nagging since the Super Bowl. Sneed’s return to practice on Sunday was his first practice since July 29.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo intimated that the decision is up to Sneed regarding a possible pitch count to begin the season.

“I’m going to leave that up to LJ because listen, we want him healthy. He practiced really well [Sunday]. I think [the media] probably saw a little bit of it. He’s doing really well, so fingers crossed. When he’s out there, he makes a difference.”

On the defensive line, the Chiefs will deploy a rotation of players, partly due to the continued holdout of defensive tackle Chris Jones. Wharton will surely be a part of that group, on schedule to return from his torn ACL 11 months after the injury. There shouldn’t be much concern regarding him being a limited participant in practice, rehabbing from this injury. Wharton did see limited reps in the final game of the preseason.

Also notably absent from the Chiefs’ injury report was Isiah Pacheco, who is seemingly 100 percent recovered from his offseason surgeries (shoulder, hand).

Lions’ injury report

The Lions enter the primetime matchup with good health across the board. Only four players are listed on their initial injury report, with defensive back Emmanuel Moseley being the only limited participant. Like Wharton, he is returning from a torn ACL suffered in October 2022.

Absent from the injury report is wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who was limited during training camp while dealing with an ankle injury. The All-Pro receiver will be a full-go against the Chiefs, potentially matched up against Sneed.

The bottom line

Football is back. The Chiefs will raise their championship banner on Thursday night, officially closing the book on the 2022 season. One factor that must be managed for every team during the NFL season is handling and managing injuries. Luckily, the Chiefs have one of the best athletic training staffs in all of the NFL.

All players listed on the injury report will have the benefit of added rest after the contest versus the Lions. The team will have a “mini-bye” of sorts, a 10-day respite before their Week 2 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. This may factor into the team’s handling of playing time for each player against the Lions.

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