I like to think of the preseason as a player’s 6.5 week courtship of an NFL roster. The Kansas City Chiefs currently have about 90 suitors. For some, the struggle is to make the roster. Others are striving to earn or maintain a starting job. One man, head coach Andy Reid, has discretion over which of them will have a relationship with this football team in 2013. He’ll also decide how serious a relationship those players can have with the team.
For today’s purposes, think of Andy Reid as “dear old dad”, think of his football team as the daughter he’s trying to protect from underachievers, and think of the preseason as his screening process. You’d do well to keep him happy, gentleman.
Here are a few simple rules that are likely to help you do just that. These rules go into effect on Friday night in the preseason opener with the New Orleans Saints. Pay close attention and take care that he doesn’t find you “unfit” for his princess.
1. Secure the football.
Here’s looking at you Knile Davis, Eric Kush, and Jon Baldwin. Fumbles, botched snap exchanges, and drops are a quick way to fall out of the HC’s favor. The three of you have had a tough time securing the pigskin so far in camp. This needs to change the moment you step onto the Superdome turf.
Davis hasn’t exactly sewn the #2 runningback job up. Shaun Draughn proved to be a capable backup just last season and could resume the role if Davis doesn’t fix this problem. Kush, if not for well-publicized troubles with snapping the football cleanly to Chase Daniel, would probably make this roster. The Chiefs are terribly thin at the center position. As it currently stands though, he could be bound for the practice squad.
Baldwin has an experienced and productive Donnie Avery breathing down his neck. Avery has recently stolen first team reps away from Baldwin. He’s down to his last chance with the organization. Unfortunately, he hasn’t responded yet. The way to Reid’s heart is to hang on to the football. He demands perfection from his players and ongoing ball security issues just won’t meet that standard.
2. Make a play.
I’m overstating the obvious here, but game tape is monumental for the bottom quarter of an NFL roster. All other things being equal, one or two plays could mean the difference between an optometrist’s and a portfolio manager’s salary in 2013. The bottom of an team roster is hotly contested and tends to see quite a bit of turnover. Safe roster spots are mostly a myth in the NFL. Forgetting that fact could be hazardous. If there was ever a time to keep that in mind, it’s now.
Here’s where a 20-yard gain helps to distinguish you from the next runningback on the depth chart. A handful of open field tackles may help you avoid Reid on the NFL’s first cut-down day on August 31st. Every rep presents a new opportunity for young players (and even a few vets on the bubble) to do something positive on film.
Remember the third preseason contest from the Chiefs’ 2012 schedule? Runningback Nate Eachus accounted for more than 25% of the team’s total offense in a game with Seattle (he rushed for 98 yards on just 10 carries and also scored a touchdown). I believe he earned his roster spot, on that team, with that performance.
3. Know your assignment.
A quick way to show up on film, for all of the wrong reasons, is to be out of position. I know what I said a moment ago about the importance of making plays, but you have to be careful about trying to make plays at the expense of your assignment on a given play. An Eric Berry gaffe in the third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks last year left a gaping hole for Russell Wilson to run through. He scampered for 32 yards before being chased out of bounds.
Berry’s a former #1 and can afford those kinds of plays here and there. The Neiko Thorpe’s of the roster don’t have a margin for error that wide. You have to take chances, but it’s vital to assess the risks of jumping a route or sticking your nose into the backfield when you’ve been asked to “stay at home.” The wrong move could prove to be the quickest way to lose your job.
Andy Reid and Bob Sutton will welcome smart, disciplined football on Friday night. Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints’ offense is a group poised to rebound with their offensive-minded head coach back in the fold. Sutton figures to call a fairly bland defensive game, but a couple of solid series against Nola’s offensive first team should satisfy Reid.
4. Impress Dave Toub.
With only 12-15 roster spots truly up for grabs, the players at the back end of the roster need to contribute on special teams. That’s how Jalil Brown has been able to stick in spite of little defensive output. He became a dependable player on Kansas City’s special team coverage units. New Orleans will present a challenge in that phase of the game for Kansas City. Their Travaris Cadet established himself as an up-and-coming young kick returner in the league last year. He averaged 26.5 yards per kick return in 2012 (one went for 75 yards against the Oakland Raiders).
The Chiefs also face the challenge of mounting a successful return game against a less-than-stout Saints coverage unit. New Orleans was one of just four teams to surrender more than 1,000 kick return yards with fewer than 50 attempts. Their punt return coverage was worse. Teams averaged 12.6 yards per punt return against them (good for 4th-worst in the NFL). Dexter McCluster and company should have opportunities to make plays on Friday night.
Following these rules on Friday night will go a long way for players 41-53. Exhibition football always separates the men from the boys and the preseason opener will be a great way to make a first game-action impression. Chiefs Kingdom will be watching and so will Andy Reid. Good luck, boys!
Until next time, Addicts!