It is no secret that the Kansas City Chiefs had a less than stellar 2011 preseason debut. They’ll look to wash the bad taste out of their mouths tonight in Baltimore.
Here are five players I think Chiefs fans should keep an eye on tonight.
1. Matt Cassel
We haven’t seen Matt Cassel throw a pass since the last time the Chiefs and the Ravens met and I think we all remember how that went.
This year Cassel has more weapons at his disposal so I’ll be watching to see if he knows what to do with them. Cassel showed in New England that he can succeed when surrounded by weapons and the Chiefs Cassel is a much better QB than the one that took over for the injured Tom Brady in 2008.
The next logical step in Cassel’s development will be learning how to deal with the NFL’s elite defenses. If the Chiefs hope to capture an AFC Championship in the next few years, they will likely have to go through a team like the Ravens. To this point in his career, Cassel has not played well against the league’s dominate defenses. He’ll face a lot of them this season so if Cassel can flash some ability tonight against the Ravens, it will go a long way toward building his confidence for the regular season.
2. Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones looked, date I say it, good, in the game against the Bucs. This is a welcome sign because Jones was clearly gassed down the stretch last season. It is evident that he has lost his speed but he looked quick out of the backfield last week and demonstrated that he still processes the vision and cutback ability that have helped him be one of the most consistent backs in the league over the last five years.
Still, Jones is an old man and even though he is playing at a lower weight, if the Chiefs give him too many carries you can bet your bottom dollar he will fade again late in the year. If Todd Haley can give half of Jones’ caries from last season to a mixture of McClain, McCluster and Charles, the aging back could be a valuable asset to the Chiefs all season long.
3. Jerheme Urban
It is time for Todd Haley to unleash his new wide receiving options. While I am sure we will see a bit more of Bowe and Breaston tonight, I have a bad feeling we might not see Baldwin. The first round pick was missing from practice yesterday and there is still no word on where he was. Besides, Haley seems confident in rolling with Jereheme Urban. While I know most of you probably aren’t too excited about Urban, don’t discount what he can bring to the offense. He is a big receiver and a veteran presence. If Baldwin isn’t ready to be a full time starter yet, Urban could be a reliable bridge. Chances are teams will focus more on Bowe, Breaston and Moeaki. This should give Urban a lot of one on one looks. If he can use his big frame to box out defenders he could be a surprise player this season.
4. Andy Studebaker
Mike Vrabel is long gone and Andy Studebaker is getting his moment to shine. Justin Houston may one day replace him but it isn’t likely to happen this year. If Studebaker can take the next step the Chiefs defense is going to be a lot better this season.
Studi looked great in the preseason game against the Eagles last year but he was backing up Mike Vrabel. This year he’ll be getting the start so keep an eye on him against the 1′s.
5. Ricky Stanzi
I’ve seen all I need to see from Tyler Palko. The dude is not an NFL QB and I am not yet sold on him being an NFL backup. The Chiefs need to flip flop these two in this game and get Stanzi some time with the second string guys. He showed some promise last week but he was playing with guys who probably won’t even make the team. It would be nice to see Stanzi get some reps with guys who can actually play a little bit.
The Chiefs already know a lot about Palko. It is time to find out as much as they can about Stanzi so they can determine if they need to find a veteran backup.
Those are the five I will be keeping an eye on tonight. Who will you be watching?