From Last Word On Pro Football, by Alexander Haynes
The dress rehearsal of the NFL preseason has passed. The main actors have taken their place on the field, walked through their problems, and are now spending the remaining week getting ready for the opening curtain call. Yet, behind those main actors are 90 more waiting for their call. They dress, practice, and work just as the starters, but will spend a majority of the 2017 season on stage right, waiting, yearning, hoping.
And this is where preseason week four comes to matter – this is the week to determine the side cast with the most opportunity. The football may be ugly and ad lib, but finding blue-chip players to make the Kansas City Chiefs roster cut is tangent to success throughout the endurance of a season.
Kansas City Chiefs Roster Cuts – Finding the Side Cast
Offensive Side Cast
Offensively, the side cast is already becoming more important than coaches are comfortable with. With running back Spencer Ware’s season ending against the Seattle Seahawks in the dress rehearsal, the onus is on piecing together a rotation of rookie Kareem Hunt, veteran backup Charcandrick West, and resurrection hopeful C.J. Spiller.
While Spiller may be the biggest question, the development of Hunt is the most important to watch against the Tennessee Titans. Spiller has flashed in camp, but has done so before only to fall to a degenerating knee injury. Bad cartilage is at the end of the day, bad cartilage and unsustainable. West has been tenured with the Chiefs, and thus far into his career, coaches know his ups and downs.
Thus, the rookie Hunt is still the biggest question. As he moves forward as the starter, he may not be played the most during game four. Yet when he does play, the intangible and raw vision he holds will be exposed. The backup offensive line for the Chiefs is less than adequate, leaving Hunt with the demand to find the dark creases of the line and anticipate vision. The stat line is not important to watch for Hunt, more so the mechanics of his vision and pass receiving.
Recall, Hunt was a player who struggled to be a consistent receiver at Tulane, and subsequently made pass receiving one of his goals.
On the receiving side, the Chiefs have left the number two slot wide open. Between Albert Wilson, Demarcus Robinson, Jehu Chesson, and Chris Conley, the side actors have left much to be desired. None have been consistent.
All the above wide receivers should make the team, thus the surprise player to watch will be Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter, and Seantavius Jones, two of whom won’t make the team. In fact, all three may be waived and moved on from if they cannot sustain a coherent attack in the final rehearsal.
Jones, despite a stellar training camp, needs the biggest game. He has already been around the practice squad for some time, and if he fails to sustain improvement, his less than NFL ceiling will be the nail in the coffin of his career.
Kemp and Dieter have impressed, but are rookie hopefuls that lack the technical expertise to play this year. One will make the practice squad or be a reserve on the roster head coach Andy Reid opts to stock with experiments. Kemp has shown sustained connectivity with future quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and thus has the highest upside of the receivers floating around the roster cut. The Kemp and Dieter battle will be essential to watch against the Titans.
Mahomes is getting the start against the Titans, and may receive some starting offensive lineman to protect him. While the starting line has been determined, the most prevalent problem is the side cast. Donald Hawkins, Isaiah Battle, Jah Reid, and Damien Mama are going to be battling for the definitive side roll. The battle of giants between the Titans and Chiefs at the line of scrimmage will be the most intriguing part of this game.
None of these linemen have been consistently good, and have fallen to mistake after mistake. At this point in the preseason, the ability to be aggressive with proficient technique, not necessarily staying mistake free, will find a way into coach Andy Heck’s heart. Aggressiveness cannot be taught, mistakes can be corrected.
Defensive Side Cast
After the Chiefs traded with the Buffalo Bills for Reggie Ragland early Monday afternoon, the Chiefs roster cuts intrigue was extrapolated tenfold. The release of veteran linebacker Josh Mauga may hint at the trajectory Bob Sutton is taking his defense.
Ramik Wilson and Ragland will be competing throughout the season as the key rotational side character. However, Ragland’s ACL is still a concern and his health may limit him from playing until halfway through the season.
The battle between linebackers Marcus Rush and Justin March-Lillard as the rotational outside pass rusher will be paramount. Rush is a quick and powerful linebacker who can swim over weaker tackles. However, he gets lost at times. March-Lillard is not as strong or quick as Rush, but he has better eyes for finding his way through the offensive line. Thus, he also has higher upside on special teams. Rush must have a sack and consistent pressure against the Titans the make the Chiefs roster cut.
Although Kevin Pierre-Louis was traded for, the arrival of Ragland hurts his opportunity to become a rotational inside linebacker that has an impact. Thus, he needs to splash on special teams and force coach Dave Toub to make him a quantitative leader. The special teams highlights are going to be fierce and some of the most exciting football in an otherwise ad lib football game.
While the Chiefs have expressed interest in ex-Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, he has since signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fact they showed interest points toward bigger concerns in the secondary. To dismiss further concern if Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson play, they must be flawless.
Deeper into the game, Eric Murray, Terrance Mitchell, De’Vante Bausby, and Leon McQuay will be the secondary members to watch. Murray has largely disappointed with a mediocre camp. He has not shown athleticism to cover slot receivers or the technique to be in press man. Mitchell has suffered the same fate.
Bausby has been a pleasant surprise as a side actor, but has yet to face major competition. The Titans have a deep roster of competitive receivers, leaving Bausby in the place where he can separate himself from a special teams player, to a technical corner.
McQuay is a rookie safety from USC who has been one of the leading special teams contributors. His undersized nature leaves him lacking in zone coverage, but his speed and heart has made him a fantastic option to grow as a gunner. However, McQuay also must make himself competent in the understanding of how to play the safety position. As McQuay plays with a high-motor, he will be the leader on one or two explosive defensive turnovers.
The defensive front has been up and down throughout training camp and the preseason. While Allen Bailey and Bennie Logan will make the team as the forefront, middle rush defenders, they have been inconsistent. Further, they may need a break some time during the season as both have been injured.
The rush defense could be a gaping hole for the Chiefs defense. Veteran Roy Miller has shown flashes of strength, and then moments where he gives up too much leverage on the interior shoulder. He is favorable to make the team, but any lapse in his game and he could be on the way out in favor of larger rolls for Ricky Ali’ifua and Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
In fact, Nunez-Roches has the highest upside due to the reshaping of his body. He and Miller may receive most of the time in the first half, and subsequently could make their expertise clear. The question is not for the Chiefs roster cut, but how much rotational time they will receive.
As mentioned before, the special teams plays will be the best part of the preseason finale. To make the Chiefs roster cut, players must make themselves as valuable as they possibly can. Hence, players will be looking to compete and prove they are willing to take on any role to be a contributor.