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Chiefs vs. 49ers: Five Things to Watch

Posted Aug 11, 2017

Here’s what to watch as the Chiefs open the preseason Friday night against the 49ers

After months of offseason workouts, minicamps, and training camp practices, the Kansas City Chiefs finally get to take the field against someone unfamiliar, and they get to do it in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers Friday night at 8:00 p.m. in the preseason opener for both teams. The game can be seen locally on KCTV5, and nationally on NFL Network.

“I want them to go out there and enjoy the moment,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of his players earlier in the week. “Not a lot of people have the opportunity to do what they’re doing.”

It shouldn’t be lost that many of these players are living out a dream by playing in an NFL game, even if it is just the preseason. A lot of these guys won’t make an NFL roster, but they’ve dedicated much of their lives to get this opportunity.

For the veterans and starters, it’s about preparations for the season, and for the younger players, this is one of four opportunities to show what they bring to the table before rosters are trimmed down to 53 players by Sunday, September 3 at 3:00 p.m. CT.

Here are five things to watch Friday night against the 49ers:

1. The guys throwing the ball

Reid said earlier this week that each of the four quarterbacks would get to play a quarter.

The plan is for Alex Smith to have the first quarter, Tyler Bray the second, Patrick Mahomes the third, and Joel Stave the fourth.

For Smith, this has been the best training camp of his tenure in Kansas City.

He has been consistently fantastic at practice—throwing the ball accurately at every level of the defense. This is a thought that’s been confirmed by the coaching staff.

But Smith knows it’s time for that success to carry over to the preseason, and then hopefully the regular season as well.

“I would like to keep the same mentality and mindset that we have going,” Smith said earlier this week. “I think especially as a perimeter unit on offense; I know we have a good mindset right now.”

Part of that perimeter unit Smith is talking about includes dynamic playmaker and second-year receiver Tyreek Hill, who has been nothing short of amazing at camp.

Without question, if we see anything Friday night like what we’ve seen from Hill at camp over the past two weeks, the Hill Hype Train will pick up a few thousand more passengers.

It’s also a big night for Bray, who has thrown his fair-share of phenomenal passes at camp as well.

“He throws a good deep ball, but there are other things he does well, too,” Reid explained of Bray. “He’s good with the short, intermediate game. He’s not fast, but he is athletic enough where he can move and run our movement game outside of the pocket.”

Bray, who is in his fifth year with the Chiefs, is in a battle for the backup quarterback spot with rookie first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Bray said of understanding the offense. “I am going up, making checks, getting in and out of the huddle quickly, so I have more time (at the line of scrimmage).”

It has been 12,424 days since a Chiefs’ rookie first-round quarterback has stepped onto the field at Arrowhead Stadium, and fans are ready to see the next one.

While many fans want to see the arm talent that’s defined his career to this point, Mahomes and the coaches want to see him simply execute the offense he’s been learning over the past couple of months.

“I am just trying to get us in the right play,” Mahomes explained of his goal for his first preseason game. “If that is protection-wise, if that is having to change a play, or if that is having to run the ball in certain situations—whatever I have to do to keep the chains moving, be efficient and don’t turn the ball over—I think that would be a success for me.

“Not necessarily throwing touchdowns. If we get down there and run the ball in, that’s a great drive for me.”

2. The guys catching the ball

Outside of Hill, Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas and Albert Wilson—the guys who have the most experience at receiver on this roster, there’s an opportunity for a few other young guys to step up and show what they’ve got.

The first player that comes to mind with a big opportunity is Seantavius Jones (No. 81).

Jones was mentioned by Reid following minicamp in June as a player to keep an eye on for camp, and he has been perhaps the most impressive young offensive player in St. Joseph.

At 6-feet-3 and 200 pounds, Jones, who is better known by his coaches and teammates as “Stretch,” looks every bit the part. He’s shown an ability to track the ball in the air that’s helped him make several big-time plays down the field at camp, including some highlight-reel-type-plays against the first-team defense.

Another one to watch would be Demarcus Robinson (No. 14), who had a fantastic few days at OTAs and minicamp earlier in the summer and has flashed his slashing run-after-the-catch style a few times at camp thus far.

Finally, the two rookies to watch outside of fourth-round pick Jehu Chesson (No. 80) are undrafted free agents Gehrig Dieter (No. 4) and Marcus Kemp (No. 7). Each has shown an ability to make difficult catches in traffic.

Dieter is more of a slot guy working across the middle, while Kemp has been a deep threat who has had a few nice hookups with Mahomes at practice. That’s been a good combination down the field.

3. The guys running the ball, including two newcomers who have some heads turning

The Chiefs know what they have in running backs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.

Ware looks to be the lead back this year based on what we’ve seen at camp, and West has shown what he can do at the NFL level.

But two new guys have been making some waves at camp.

The first is veteran C.J. Spiller (No. 26)—the former Top 10 pick of the Buffalo Bills (No. 9, 2010). He hasn’t scored an NFL touchdown since 2013, but seems to have gotten some juice back as his display of speed and ability has been one of the stories offensively at camp.

The other is rookie third-round pick Kareem Hunt (No. 27), who has already become a trendy name among some national media people as a breakout player candidate.

Hunt has found his way into some first-team reps at camp already, and so he’s a guy to watch Friday night.

4. A young safety who’s had a great camp, and a veteran cornerback looking to impress

With veteran All-Pro safety Eric Berry missing the last few practices of camp with a sore heel, the opportunity for his replacement—second-year player Eric Murray (No. 21)—to grab a start with the first-team defense is likely.

Berry’s issue isn’t considered serious, but it has given Murray a good chunk of time as the single-high safety with the first-team defense.

All offseason, Murray has been praised for his development by his positional coaches, and he has shown a noticeable difference this year of consistently finding his way around the ball at camp. He has had several impressive pass breakups and a few interceptions to his credit.

Another defensive back to watch is fourth-year cornerback Phillip Gaines, who has played in just 14 games over the past two years because of knee problems.

While Terrance Mitchell has grabbed much of the first-team reps as the third cornerback on the field, Gaines was the next man up when Mitchell went down with a hamstring injury.

Gaines’ health and performance this preseason could go a long way in helping this Chiefs’ defense as a whole.

5. The inside linebackers

Finally, the last positional group to watch for the Chiefs on Friday is at inside linebacker.

It’s normally tough, particularly in the first preseason game, to see clean play from this group as there hasn’t been a lot of full-contact live hitting at practice. It’s going to be an adjustment, but it’s a loaded position for the Chiefs and one to pay attention to anyway.

It starts with veteran Derrick Johnson, who continues to defy father time as he’s worked himself back from another season-ending Achilles injury. He’s one of the best defensive players in franchise history and it’ll be good to see him knock some rust off as he gets ready for the regular season just over seven months removed from surgery.

Joining Johnson at inside linebacker with experience is fellow starter Ramik Wilson, and former starters Josh Mauga and Justin March-Lillard.

So, when you add in Terrance Smith, who got a little run with the defense last year as well, there’s already a good group there.

But two guys to keep an eye on are Kevin Pierre-Louis (No. 57), who the Chiefs recently traded for with the Seattle Seahawks, and rookie Ukeme Elgwe (No. 45).

Both players have been praised for their athleticism, and each has been impressive at camp.  

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