We have one more week of exhibition to go into the 2022 NFL preseason.
The Kansas City Chiefs round out their three-game schedule by hosting the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night. Kick-off is set for 7pm Arrowhead time.
The roster stands at 80 players and must be reduced to 53 between the end of this game and the start of the regular season. This game will be the last chance for some individuals on the grid bubble.
With enough at stake for the players on the field, I have five things to look at:
1. Who is? NOT to play
Last year, the Chiefs took advantage of their starting offense for two drives of their third preseason game, scoring touchdowns on both possessions before retiring to the bench. That doesn’t mean it will be the same this time.
First, head coach Andy Reid was asked on Tuesday about his plan to have players like quarterback Patrick Mahomes play on Thursday. He told reporters he wasn’t quite out yet. However, the starters looked so efficient and ready for the real games, it’s understandable if Reid was pleased with what he saw.
That was not the case last year. In the first two games of the preseason, the Chiefs’ starters didn’t get much going. They had extended the playing time into the second week, but it just didn’t click. It might have been more important to give them another chance to put together some good rides.
So if you don’t see the starters on the pitch, you can interpret that as Coach Reid feeling great about what his team looks like – he doesn’t need to see any of the top players anymore.
2. The depth of the defense line
One of the most intriguing position battles left is between the players looking to fill in the depths of the Chiefs’ line of defense.
In my opinion, there are seven locks to get the team into the defensive line: defensive tackles Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Tershawn Wharton – along with defensive ends Frank Clark, Mike Danna, George Karlaftis and Carlos Dunlap.
The Chiefs will most likely hold nine or ten in the position, and there are a total of five players fighting for those two or three spots: defensive tackles Khalen Saunders, Taylor Stallworth and Danny Shelton – plus defensive goals Joshua Kaindoh and Malik Herring.
I think in the end the team will choose between Herring or Kaindoh, and personally I am more impressed with Herring this preseason. Inland, Saunders has come up strong and should be the front runner, but Stallworth and Shelton get one last chance to prove they’re worthy of being put away as fifth defensive tackle and 10th overall defensive lineman.
3. The Battle of Swing Tackle
The Chiefs starting offensive tackles for Week 1 appear to be ready – with Orlando Brown Jr. on the left and Andrew Wylie on the right.
Behind them, it’s hard to say exactly what the team is thinking. Last week saw the second team’s offensive line with Geron Christian as the left tackle, with Prince Tega Wanogho as the right tackle. When they left the field, it was Roderick Johnson as the left tackle, with rookie Darian Kinnard as the right tackle.
The Chiefs have sometimes moved players like Christian, Tega Wanogho and Johnson to the right or left seat of the camp, indicating that they want a swing tackle behind the starters; someone who can play both left and right.
Christian looks set to be the frontrunner for that spot, but Tega Wanogho’s appearance in the right tackle – knowing he has traditionally played the left tackle – may indicate that he is also a contender for that role.
Either way, each player has one more chance to show that he is capable for the team this season.
4. Filling the Defensive Backfield
The plan for the depth of the team’s defensive backfield is still not as clear cut as most of the team’s positions are currently.
Right now, there appear to be nine locks on the list: Security Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, Bryan Cook and Deon Bush — who received high praise this week from Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub.
Then there are five cornerbacks: L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson; the latter two were picked this week by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as competitors for the role that Fenton’s groin injury is giving way to.
It’s down to one spot left – and special teams ace Chris Lammons helped his cause last week with two big defensive plays late in the game.
That said, rookie cornerback Nazeeh Johnson is equally athletic and can be seen as having more of an advantage, while sophomore safety Zayne Anderson has sometimes run with the starting special teams.
Each of these players will get another chance to survive the cuts next week.
5. How the team honors the late Len Dawson
Kansas City really lost its original sports superstar on Wednesday, when the family of former Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson announced his passing at the age of 87.
The organization has not seen such a loss since team founder Lamar Hunt passed away in December 2006. After that, the team wore jersey patches in his honor — and has since established the Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat as a way to honor members of the Kansas City community who embody Hunt’s spirit in what they do for others.
Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said there will be some sort of Dawson tribute Thursday night, but I hope it doesn’t stop there. Dawson meant so much to every Chiefs fan – young or old – so I imagine he will be quite honored not just Thursday, but this entire season.