Months of preparation may very well come down to one final game on Thursday as dozens of players on the "roster bubble" take the field for the Kansas City Chiefs' preseason finale against the Green Bay Packers. It represents one last opportunity for those fighting for a roster spot to make their case, and while the final cutdown is less than a week away, there's still time to make an impression.
"I reminded our guys this morning that there's an imaginary sign outside that says, 'Hiring All Applicants.' You're interviewing for a job with everything that you do," said Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy. "We want our players to make it as tough of a decision [as possible]…We want the best football players who can help us win on Sundays. If it takes you until a third preseason game to show that you can do that, then that's what it takes."
The roster, which currently sits at 80 players, will need to be trimmed down to 53 players by Aug. 30. It's a harsh reality for everybody involved, as most of these players have been working out at the Chiefs' facility since the spring. They've been as much a part of the team as anyone for months now, but with the regular season rapidly approaching, it's nearly time for several tough decisions to be made following weeks and weeks of evaluations.
"I think there are still some battles going on, and that's a good thing. If it was set in stone [already], that wouldn't be good," said Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "There are some [positions] that are probably well defined, but I think there are still some battles [taking place]."
It's reasonable to imagine that the stress of those remaining battles could cause some players to press, but veteran safety Justin Reid urged the Chiefs' "bubble" players to remain poised heading into Thursday's game.
"Don't get bogged down overthinking [about] your job or what's going to happen next. At the end of the day, football is football," Reid said. "It's the same sport we've been playing since we were kids, so pin your ears back and go."
The players who take the field on Thursday will do so having survived two rounds of cuts over the last seven days. The Chiefs parted ways with six players (offensive lineman Evin Ksiezarczyk, cornerback Lonnie Johnson, wide receiver Gary Jennings, wide receiver Omar Bayless and wide receiver Devin Gray) last week before waiving three more players (cornerback Brandin Dandridge, safety Nasir Greer and offensive lineman David Steinmetz) on Monday.
Kansas City also moved offensive lineman Lucas Niang to the "Reserve/PUP" list on Tuesday – temporarily clearing his roster spot – and placed tailback Derrick Gore on season-ending Injured Reserve.
Those moves helped the Chiefs narrow the roster down to 80 total players, but 27 additional cuts loom next Tuesday with only so many opportunities remaining to impress. In fact, for most of these players, it will likely come down to the variety of roles that they can fill.
"They need to understand that it's not [only] about being out there playing their particular position. It's all about what you're doing on the scout team and what you're doing when given an opportunity on special teams," Bieniemy said. "At the end of the day, we want these guys to come out here, play hard and play fast."
The Chiefs wrap up the preseason against the Packers on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT.