Pressure Heats Up Under Preseason Lights

Posted Aug 11, 2011

Young players hope to shine in nationally televised preseason opener

Player evaluation reaches a new level Friday evening when training camp goes on location at Arrowhead Stadium. An unprecedented off-season has reduced the player evaluation period while increasing learning curve demands.

Just 36 days span from camp’s beginning to final cuts on September 3rd. For many of Kansas City’s younger players and new faces, the preseason is the season.

“It’s big,” WR Verran Tucker said. “I try to tell some of these rookies that you’re guaranteed to get yourself about two or three games, so put whatever you can on that film because it’s not just for this team, it’s for everyone.

“I’m not gonna lie, this game is pretty big for me too. I can’t wait. I’m really excited.”

If Kansas City’s newcomers are smart, they’ll listen to Tucker. It was only a year ago that Tucker arrived after the start of training camp as a rookie free agent already on his second team. He’d been in and out of Dallas before the Cowboys’ camp had even begun. Kansas City took a flier.

If anyone faced an uphill battle to make the Chiefs roster, it was Tucker. A year later, he’s still around and owns 11 games of playing experience to go along with two starts and a touchdown catch.

“You just can’t get caught up in the numbers and have to do anything necessary to try and stand out,” Tucker advised. “The one thing that the coaches want is a player who is going to be consistent, not great one day and then just OK the next day.”

Tucker faces a different type of challenge this season. Instead of simply trying to get noticed, he’s aiming to keep his place on the 53-man roster. His position group as a whole is significantly deeper than it was last season.

 “I feel comfortable, but not too comfortable,” Tucker said. “It still feels like last year in the fact that I’m trying to make this team. I don’t want to go to the practice squad, I want to make this roster right out of camp. That’s what my focus is right now.”

“We always tell these guys, you’re being evaluated at all times,” Head Coach Todd Haley said. “You’re being evaluated how you sit in here in the meeting room, how you take notes, how you handle yourself in the training room, or when you’re nicked up or not feeling so hot, it’s not all just football.”

Friday night is the next step in a very short evaluation period. The first roster cut is just a few weeks away and the Chiefs kickoff their regular season schedule in less than a month.

Game tempo is something many of these players haven’t experienced in more than six months.

 “I’m taking it one step at a time,” said 2011 fourth-round draft pick Jalil Brown. “I’ve been out of football for a while now. The last game I played was back in November, so I I haven’t had too much football to do. I’m taking it one step at a time and make plays as much as possible.”

With roster slots on the line and depth charts ready to be formed, the pressure is rising.

“I think there is a high level of stress for this first game for everybody, especially young guys that maybe haven’t had a chance to play very much or any at all in the NFL,” Haley said. “That’s part of the process, and we just have to have them understand the game plan for this particular game and what’s expected of them.”

Preseason games may not count in the standings, but they go a long way in beginning and continuing careers. Pressure to perform will be present long after the first-teamers have traded their helmets for sideline caps.

“I’m never comfortable you’ve got to keep working, that’s what I try to tell these young guys is you never know when it’s going to be your last play and you’ve got to play every play like it’s your last,” veteran NT Kelly Gregg said. “Just have fun, and just get out there and try to get better.”

Nothing is guaranteed. Time is ticking. Just as fast as preseason games have come, the regular season is approaching even quicker.

Only four days of practices remain before the Chiefs break camp in St. Joseph and return home. Friday night, evaluation moves from the practice field to a nationally-televised setting.

 “The games are important in a lot of different ways, but evaluation is the number one thing here,” Haley said. “Whether it’s happening in a game, the practice field, you know we have to have a good feel for what these guys are and what they can do and what role they can fill.”

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