The Kansas City Chiefs will travel for the second week in a row as they face the Chicago Bears in the all-important third preseason game of the year on Saturday afternoon.
This is when the starters will see the most extensive action of their preseason, which makes it the final dress rehearsal for many of the key players.
When head coach Andy Reid spoke with the media on Thursday afternoon, he said the ones will play the entire first half against the Bears and *could *begin the third quarter. He said he would make that determination once he sees how they perform in the first half.
Reid also said running backs Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Trey Millard, linebackers Tamba Hali, Josh Mauga, Dezman Moses and Justin Houston, along with quarterback Tyler Bray, will not play.
As for the guys who will be on the field on Saturday against the Bears, here are five things to watch:
- How much will Phillip Gaines play?
Gaines hasn't played in a game since Week 3 of last season, when he suffered a knee injury late in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers, which cost him the rest of the season and much of this offseason.
Gaines has been brought along slowly during his rehab and was limited at practice through much of training camp, but according to head coach Andy Reid, he should be back on the field on Saturday against the Bears.
"There's a good chance," Reid said of Gaines being able to play on Saturday. "We'll see how he did [Thursday] and how he feels."
- Can Alex Smith stay hot?
Now in his fourth year in Andy Reid's offensive system, quarterback Alex Smith has progressed each year. Based on his performance through two preseason games, he looks to be in total control of this offense heading into the 2016 regular season.
Smith has completed 12 of 16 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown in the first two games combined, leading the first-team offense to points in four of their five drives, including 3 touchdowns (two of which were 75-yard drives).
Of Smith's 12 completions—they have gone to six different targets—only two have been to receivers. The other four were to three different tight ends and a running back.
Those 12 completions include 7 passes that resulted in gains of 10 or more yards, including three to Jeremy Maclin, which have gone for 20, 19 and 20 yards, respectively.
The longest throw-and-catch so far came from Smith and second-year receiver Chris Conley last week against the Los Angeles Rams on an audibled play from Smith at the line of scrimmage. It went for 37 yards.
- Will starters at inside linebacker, right cornerback be solidified?
The Chiefs are without last year's starting "Mike" linebacker, veteran Josh Mauga, who has missed all of the preseason with a groin injury.
In his place, second-year players Ramik Wilson and Justin March have each started games at that spot on the inside of the defense next to Derrick Johnson. It's a key spot because that's the player who makes the calls, and it's fair to say the plan for that spot heading into the regular season opener against the Chargers could be determined by Saturday's game.
The other key spot to watch on the defense is at the right cornerback spot opposite the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marcus Peters.
Veteran Marcus Cooper, second-year player Steve Nelson and rookie D.J. White have all logged snaps at that spot with the first-team defense through the first two preseason games.
Gaines is also in the mix as he works his way back from the knee injury.
In a division with the likes of the formidable duos of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree with the Oakland Raiders, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos, and Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen of the San Diego Chargers, the No. 2 cornerback spot is crucial for the overall success of the defense, particularly on a team with as high of expectations as the Chiefs have heading into this season.
- How will the offensive line fare with the most reps thus far?
Through the first couple of preseason games and in looking around the league, the Chiefs are tied for the third-youngest offensive line in the NFL at an average age of just 24.8 years old.
The oldest projected starter is right tackle Mitch Schwartz, who is just 27 years old.
Throughout the majority of offseason training activities and into training camp and the preseason, the first-team offensive line has remained the same—from left to right: Eric Fisher, Parker Ehinger, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Mitch Schwartz.
What they lack in overall experience, they have tried to make up for in continuity developed from taking all of these offseason reps next to one another.
While anything can happen and injuries are inevitable, as evidenced by the nine different starting combinations along the offensive line last season, the Chiefs have done everything they can this offseason to develop some comfort among the guys playing in the trenches next to one another.
The offense goes as that group goes and their development and performance on Saturday afternoon will be the best measuring stick for how far they've come this offseason.
- Can the Chiefs avoid key injuries?
The most important thing for the Chiefs coming out of Saturday's game is to stay healthy. They've been in a relatively good spot with most of the projected starters through the first two preseason games, but with more snaps comes more opportunity for injury.
The players need these snaps to be ready to face the San Diego Chargers on September 11, but they also need to be on the field when that day comes.