The Kansas City Chiefs are multitasking right now.
In fact, it's not *only *the Chiefs that are doing this; it's everyone around the league.
The Chiefs are simultaneously preparing for their season opener against the New England Patriots (September 7, Thursday Night Football), which happens to be less than three weeks away. But they're also in the process of evaluating a deep and talented roster full of many players who will be playing for other teams in a few weeks.
It's a good problem to have and one that NFL teams seek to put themselves into—having too few of spots for too many good players.
And for the Chiefs, there are still roster spots up for grabs and these last three preseason games will go a long way in determining who gets those final few spots. The 53-man roster has to be set by Saturday, September 2 at 3:00 p.m. CT.
At that date and around that time, more than 1,200 players from across the league will become free agents at the same time. It's going to be crazy.
The Chiefs will also have to identify and sign the 10 players to their practice squad, and so a lot is riding on these three games for guys hoping to continue their dreams of playing professional football.
So, as the Chiefs get set to take on the Bengals in their second preseason game, which can be seen locally on KCTV5 (CBS), coach Andy Reid mentioned that playtime for this game would be split up differently than last week.
"Not everybody will play this game," Reid noted. "Everybody will be ready to play, but not everybody will necessarily play this game like the last game. We'll get good work in against a good football team, and that's the most important thing right now."
Here are five things to watch during the game:
- Will the quarterbacks fire it deep early once again?
In the Chiefs' first preseason game against the 49ers, the first offensive play for Alex Smith, Tyler Bray, and Patrick Mahomes were deep shots down the field.
Reid let each of them air it out.
Smith's was caught by Tyreek Hill for a gain of 32 yards, and then Bray and Mahomes both had their long completions called back because of penalties. Bray's 83-yard touchdown to Chris Conley was called back because of offensive pass interference, and Mahomes' 41-yard strike to Demarcus Robinson was called back because of holding.
Final lines for each of those three quarterbacks against the 49ers:
Smith – 4 of 6 for 48 yards.
Bray – 5 of 8 for 63 yards and an interception
Mahomes – 7 of 9 for 49 yards and a touchdown
It'll be interesting to see how much of the passing game is opened up Saturday considering much of the talk all week during practice was about the running game. The Chiefs ran the ball 14 times for just 31 yards (2.2 yards per carry) against the 49ers.
As far as playing time, Reid said Smith will play the first half of Saturday's game, with Mahomes, who was promoted just this week to the No. 2 spot, taking the third quarter, and Bray holding down the fourth.
- Will we see the return of a couple of key veterans?
After being a full participant in practice recently, there's a good chance we see the return of All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, who missed some practice time and the game last week with a swollen knee.
Over the past few days, Kelce has looked like the guy who led the team with 85 receptions and more than 1,100 yards last year, and he could make his return to the field just four miles away from where he played in college at the University of Cincinnati. Expect him to be excited if he's out there.
.@tkelce returned to the field Sunday morning and said he feels 100%. Looked like the guy who earned first-team All-Pro honors last year. pic.twitter.com/1fibuLNQeL — BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) August 13, 2017
On a *somewhat *related note, the NFL is allowing more celebrations this year. Just saying.
Another guy who could potentially return is veteran defensive lineman Bennie Logan, who also missed time recently with a sore knee but was back on the field practicing this week.
Second-year defensive lineman Chris Jones, who also returned to practice recently as he was brought off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, wasn't a participant during the team or 9-on-7 periods of practice. But Logan was, which is why there's a better chance we'd see Logan if we see either of them.
If he's out there, Logan is a guy to watch. He's been virtually unblockable during 1-on-1 drills.
- Size off the edge
Rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon is a guy to watch for the Chiefs' defense.
Last week against the 49ers, Kpassagnon (No. 92) lined up at nose tackle, defensive end, and outside linebacker.
At 6-feet-7 and 289 pounds, the physical ability he has is ridiculous.
"I don't know if I've ever seen that before," Chiefs defensive line coach Britt Reid said of Kpassagnon earlier this week, just hours after he covered a wheel-route 20 yards down the field during an 11-on-11 drill. "He's unique. That's unbelievable some of the stuff he can do."
While he's far from a finished product, the ability Kpassagnon possesses will be pressed and developed by Reid and this defensive coaching staff, and he's a guy to watch for Saturday. There is no player comparison for what he can do with his size and athleticism.
"I think he's done an amazing job, and credit to him he's one of the more coachable guys I've ever been around," Reid added. "He's able to pick up something really fast and do it in individual, but then also transfer it to the field.
"I was really impressed with the way he held up inside on double teams and playing the run in that first preseason game."
- Will the running game get going?
The Chiefs didn't light up the stat sheet running the ball in their first preseason game against the 49ers—rushing it 13 times for just 41 yards.
"We've got to do a better job," Reid told the media during a conference call the day after the game. "We need to get bodies on bodies is what we have to do. Just identify the direction in which we're going. You always hear people talk about identifying who the Mike is and then kind of work to that person, so we've got to do a better job with that. Some of these plays we wouldn't even run against this team if you had time to game plan for them. We're just kind of throwing our base stuff out there, and so sometimes we ran into an overload, which we normally don't do.
"When it really comes down to it you still have to get a body on body, secure that level one so there's not penetration, and give the back at least a chance."
\Earlier this week, assistant head coach Brad Childress also spoke about the rushing performance against the 49ers.
"Would have liked to see it more effective, but I think it was [Reid's] idea that when it's warm like this, we want to make sure we sync up the passing game," Childress explained. "I think you'll probably see more emphasis on run as we go here, but we'll never step away from that pass. Got to be able to do it here if you're going to do it in climate conditions as the season goes on."
It makes sense considering the Chiefs finished the game against the 49ers with twice as many passing attempts (30) as rushing attempts (14).
It'll be interesting to see if the running game gets going Saturday.
- Young guys to watch
Outside of Mahomes and Kpassagnon, who are obvious young players to watch, there are a couple of other young guys who might mix in later in the game who have drawn praise for their performances thus far.
The first is rookie cornerback Ashton Lampkin (No. 6).
Lampkin was specifically mentioned by name by cornerbacks coach Al Harris, who was asked about any young players who have impressed him to this point.
"From the time he first got here until now, it is night and day," Harris said of Lampkin. "The confidence is there; the movement is there. He's still young and growing, but the ceiling is high, and he does everything you ask him to do."
Offensively, the young player to watch is running back Kareem Hunt. He's not a surprise pick here, and his steady climb to grabbing more first-team touches shouldn't go unnoticed.
"He is a physical back that can do a lot of things, so hopefully this coming week, he gets a few more touches," offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said of Hunt earlier this week.
Hunt finished his college career as Toledo's all-time leading rusher with 4,945 yards and 44 touchdowns, and he has been a popular pick by many national media types as a potential rookie breakout performer this year.
The Chiefs moved up to select Hunt with the No. 86 overall pick in the third round of this year's draft.