KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A return to football begins Saturday night when the Chiefs travel to Glendale, Ariz., to take on the Cardinals in preseason action.
While there are plenty of position battles yet to be determined, don’t expect all of them to be fully settled in the first exhibition game.
The preseason offers an evaluation period for the coaching staff, especially when considering the starters are expected to play the first quarter before giving way to backups.
Contributor Nick Jacobs recently offered five players to watch, but here are five scenarios to also consider:
BERRY PRIMED FOR ACTION
Safety Eric Berry’s return just eight months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and defeating cancer is hands down the top story of the first full weekend of NFL preseason action.
Berry has worked mostly with the second-team defense in training camp, while getting inserted with the first-team unit in personnel packages.
The sixth-year pro has flashed the athleticism that earned him a first-team All-Pro selection in 2013, and he delighted attending fans at Wednesday’s practice with an interception off a deflected pass during 7-on-7 drills.
Coach Andy Reid indicated Wednesday that Berry could see action, but it remains to be seen exactly how much — if at all — Berry is on the playing field.
Either way, Berry’s presence on the sideline in full uniform proves inspiring enough.
OFFENSIVE LINE ROTATION
The Chiefs are set to start Eric Fisher at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, rookie Mitch Morse at center, Zach Fulton at right guard and Jeff Allen at right tackle.
While the Chiefs overhauled the offensive line during the offseason, adding two-time Pro Bowler Grubbs via trade, the unit is under a microscope given the dismal performance in 2014.
The first sign of trouble arrived during the 2014 preseason opener when Chiefs quarterbacks were sacked six times: Alex Smith, who saw action on just 11 snaps, went down once; primary backup Chase Daniel hit the turf three times; and Tyler Bray was sacked twice.
Kansas City’s offensive line remains in flux at center, right guard and right tackle. How third-year center Eric Kush and fourth-year tackle Donald Stephenson, both of whom opened training camp with the first team, perform with the second team will go a long way in determining the outcome of the starting unit.
The other backups to monitor as the game progresses are guards Paul Fanaika and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and tackles Jarrod Pughsley and Derek Sherrod, as the Chiefs need to identify swing players at guard and tackle.
PLUGGING THE MIDDLE
Defensive tackle Jaye Howard, who currently weighs 330 pounds, has the first shot to fill in for Dontari Poe, who remains out while recovering from back surgery. The Chiefs could use defensive end Mike DeVito in that role if needed.
But there are large bodies on the roster jockeying for position worth watching with the second- and third-team units, especially undrafted rookie Charles Tuaau, who measures 6-5, 310-pounds and the 6-0, 324-pound Hebron Fangupo.
Also keep a close eye on rookie Rakeem Nunez-Roches, as the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick of the 2015 NFL Draft seeks to carve a role on the defensive line.
SPEAKING OF THE MIDDLE
The inside linebacker position is suddenly thin with three players injured: Starter Josh Mauga (heel), James-Michael Johnson (calf) and rookie D.J. Alexander (ankle).
Johnson has yet to put in a training camp practice, while Mauga and Alexander were injured Wednesday, leaving the Chiefs to finish practice with Derrick Johnson, and rookies Ramik Wilson and Justin March on the inside.
Outside linebacker Frank Zombo can play inside, but he has filled in for Dee Ford (concussion).
The Chiefs can’t afford another injury on the inside with Derrick Johnson returning from last season’s ruptured Achilles tendon.
LONG SNAPPER WAR
The battle between long snappers James Winchester and Andrew East won’t be settled in one preseason game.
Winchester often snaps first during special teams drills in training camp, but this contest could very well go into the fourth exhibition game.
The Chiefs experienced snapping issues with Thomas Gafford late in the 2014 regular season, and will enter the 2015 regular season with a new long snapper for the first time in seven seasons.
Long snapping carries extra importance in 2015 with the point after touchdown moved back to the 15-yard line, which basically makes the extra point a 32-yard field goal attempt.