Governor's Cup Take Five Rewind

Posted Aug 27, 2011

Looking back at Friday night's pre-game focus points

ARROWHEAD STADIUM – Unless the Chiefs and Rams meet in the Super Bowl (as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon likes to remind us of the possibility each and every preseason), the Governor’s Cup will reside in St. Louis for the 2011 season. The Rams 14-10 victory in Kansas City gives St. Louis possession of the much-coveted cup.

Now 0-3 in the preseason, the Chiefs are in familiar territory. Kansas City has gone winless in its first three preseason games four of the last five years and in all three preseasons under Todd Haley. In fact, the lone preseason win of the Haley came against Green Bay last season – Kansas City’s opponent next Thursday night.

The clock is ticking towards the real thing. Let’s recap Friday night’s pre-game focus points. As always, original text is in italics with post-game commentary in bold.

Governor’s Cup Take Five Rewind…

St. Louis makes an intrastate visit to Kansas City for the annual Governor’s Cup matchup between the Chiefs and Rams Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Historically a battle for Missouri bragging rights, this year’s game is about much more than football.

The entire evening will be dedicated to assisting the people of Joplin, MO in their recovery and rebuilding efforts from tornado devastation as well as recognizing the many volunteers who have helped ensure the spirit of the Joplin community continues to shine.

If you’re coming to the game, think of the difference football fans can make if every person who steps through the turnstile donates just $1 to Joplin relief efforts. There will be donation stations benefitting the Joplin Recovery Fund and the Joplin Relief Fund at each gate when entering Arrowhead.

If you’re not able to attend the game, but would still like to help the people of Joplin, fans can make donations by visiting the Chiefs Facebook page HERE.

This year’s Governor’s Cup serves as a platform to highlight the progress in Joplin and the needs of that city moving forward. It’s the focus of everything surrounding tonight’s game, but here are five things to pay attention to when watching the action unfold between the white lines.

Governor’s Cup Take Five

1)      Revisiting The Core Four

With tight position battles in the reserve ranks at safety, wide receiver and linebacker, it’s time to re-visit our focus on the Core Four special teams performers. These are the guys who are able to play on the four primary special teams units – kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return.

“I do think that as you get in to some of those fourth safety, sixth linebacker, fourth receiver, fifth receiver – special teams might play a big role in it,” Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley said earlier this week.

Last year’s most active special teamers were LB Cory Greenwood, RB Jackie Battle, WR Terrance Copper, OLB Andy Studebaker, LB Demorrio Williams and DB Donald Washington – all reserve players at their respective positions.

“If you’re not a starter, you have to be able to play special teams,” Copper said. “That’s just something I took to at an early age and thank God they’ve kept me around for a little bit.”

Our last check of Core Four players came against Tampa Bay when three players ran with the first unit on all four special teams. Those three players were S Reshard Langford, LB Justin Cole and OLB Cameron Sheffield. Greenwood, Washington and TE Jake O’Connell each appeared on three first-team units.

What will the Core Four look like against St. Louis?

We charted the first-team personnel on kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return against St. Louis. Here are your Core Four performers against the Rams…

LB Demorrio Williams

S Reshard Langford

RB Jackie Battle

In addition, LB Cory Greenwood, OLB Andy Studebaker and LB Justin Cole appeared on three of the four special teams units.

2)      Aftermath Of Siler’s Injury

I’ve read and heard a few takes that Brandon Siler’s season-ending injury shouldn’t hamper the Chiefs defense all that much in 2011. That’s an opinion I couldn’t disagree with more.

With Siler, the Chiefs found a player that the defense didn’t have in 2010 – a crossover inside linebacker. Kansas City’s two-deep never shifted from their respective positions on the strong and weak sides. Jovan Belcher and Corey Mays played “Mike” while Derrick Johnson and Demorrio Williams played “Will.”

Williams is now the only backup at middle linebacker with any extensive NFL experience, but he’s only played on the weak side with the Chiefs. Siler had been working next to Williams on the strong side throughout camp.

“That inside strong linebacker is taking on big bodies much of the time and has to be much more of a downhill player,” Haley explained last preseason after being asked why Williams and Johnson were never paired together. “(Derrick and Demorrio) are not the image that you, as a coach, have in your head as an inside strong-side backer in the 3-4. It’s no issue with them; it’s that you need a little bigger body to hold up to the pounding.”

In Wednesday’s night practice, Justin Cole took the second-team reps at “Mike” alongside Williams. Cole is a player who the Chiefs were obviously high on last season as he made the team out of training camp as a rookie free agent; but is he ready to be in the two deep?

Last year, Cole was inactive for the first 11 games before being released and joining the practice squad. How will the Chiefs treat the backup position behind Belcher on Friday night?

At the moment, it doesn’t look like Williams has begun to crossover to the strong side. Cole got plenty of looks at “Mike” linebacker with the second-team defense Friday night. Micah Johnson got the third-team looks after Cole.

This is a position worth watching throughout the rest of the preseason, into cuts, after cuts and likely into the regular season. In base sets, Belcher rarely left the game last year, but the position is one of the most physically demanding of the defense.

Mays played few defensive snaps in 2010, but he was a 100-tackle performer in 2009. Though  Belcher’s role isn’t likely to change in 2011, the Chiefs have some decisions to make with the personnel behind him.

3)      Speaking Of Linebackers

Let’s shift our focus to the outside linebacker position and its depleting amount of depth heading into the third preseason game. In Wednesday’s practice, just four outside linebackers were active – Tamba Hali, Andy Studebaker, Justin Houston and Cameron Sheffield.

Out for the Chiefs were Pierre Walters, Eric Bahktiari and Gabe Miller.

We’re likely to get a long look at Houston and Sheffield if the Chiefs play with just four outside linebackers – which might not be a bad thing. Both Sheffield and Houston are coming of very good performances in Baltimore and could make a statement with follow-up performances against the Rams.

As expected, there were only four active outside linebackers in Friday night’s game. One of the most encouraging areas of the loss…again…was the play of backup OLBs Houston and Sheffield.

Houston received a handful of first-team reps opposite Hali and made a difference in the pass rush once again. His first half sack-and-strip of Sam Bradford was eventually ruled an incomplete pass, but the rookie was impressive off the edge none-the-less. In addition, Houston showed his ability to defend the run, holding strong in a nine-technique (outside shoulder of tight end) on a critical third-and-short snap.

Keep an eye on Houston next week to see if he receives more first-team snaps.

Sheffield, in some ways, is the story of training camp. He’s shown no signs of the neck injury that ended his rookie season before it began. If anything, the second-year player has picked up right where he left last preseason; and he was surging late last preseason.

Another player who showed nice versatility was Justin Cole. After logging a load of second-team snaps at “Mike” linebacker, Cole moved outside to lineup with the third-team defense after Houston and Sheffield were removed from the game.

As a player trying to earn a reserve roster spot, Cole’s ability to play special teams as well as multiple linebacking positions only helps his stock.

4)      Offensive Pickup

The offense has struggled to muster much firepower this preseason. It’s something Haley has credited to a lack of scheming and a focus on fundamentals.

Last week in Baltimore, Matt Cassel completed just six of 14 passes while primary ball carriers Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined to average only 3.0 yards per carry. The only first-team score came via a 31-yard field goal after the Chiefs recovered a muffed punt in the Ravens’ red zone.

“I think that’s just the way that it is, so I want to be fair to those guys,” Haley said. “We’re working fundamentals and we’re working base offense, bread and butter stuff – runs, pass, play-action. But, the offense is making progress.”

Granted, last week’s game in Baltimore was also the first preseason action for most of Kansas City’s front-line players. Starters are expected to see significant snaps against the Rams, while Chiefs fans are waiting to see a preview of good things to come.

Unfortunately, this is the most concerning aspect of the preseason. After three games, we’ve yet to see the first-team offense punch the ball into the end zone or rally any type of sustained drive. Twice the first-unit has acquired the football in an opponents’ red zone and twice the Chiefs have settled for field goals. In those six red zone snaps, the Chiefs have gained a total of one yard.

It’s only the preseason, but there’s just one game left to gain any sort of offensive momentum before Buffalo visits Arrowhead for the regular season opener in only two weeks.

5)      Any UDFAs on the 53?

Will an undrafted free agent make this year’s 53-man roster? History says yes, but the lack of an offseason has made an uphill climb for rookie underdogs even steeper this season.

Jeremy Horne, Cory Greenwood and Justin Cole beat the odds in last year’s final cuts. Verran Tucker made an impact after starting the year on the practice squad.

In Todd Haley’s first season, Jovan Belcher and Pierre Walters were able to conquer the undrafted wall. Two years later, Belcher is slated to enter his second season as a starter.

Out of this year’s bunch, Butch Lewis has shown versatility on the line and has even received first-team reps at tackle because of injury. CB Demond Washington has shown promise on special teams. T David Mims received some fan interest in St. Joseph, as did DE Brandon Bair.

Time is ticking with just two games remaining. There are plenty of undrafted rookies still hoping to impress. Will any of them take a stand Friday night?

This is going to be interesting come cut-down day. No rookie free agents have jumped out from a statistical perspective, like Jeremy Horne did last preseason, but that doesn’t mean they’re not making a run for roster spots in the film room.

More than likely, at least one rookie free agent is going to make this football team. I can’t recall the last time one didn’t.

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