Ricky Stanzi is truly better than ..."/> Ricky Stanzi is truly better than ..."/> Ricky Stanzi is truly better than ..."/>

Chiefs vs. Cardinals: What To Watch For Friday Night


Ricky Stanzi is truly better than Brady Quinn.

The quarterback position remains the most important position in football, of course, and after years of trying to replace the hole left by QB Trent Green, the Kansas City Chiefs have been mired with poor starters and zero depth.  In 2008, the team actually trotted out a trio of Brody Croyle, Damon Huard, and Tyler Thigpen as their depth chart and expected to be taken seriously.

Fortunately, the team can boast a pretty solid depth chart at the position. Franchise QB Matt Cassel, an effective game manager, sits atop the position for another year.  Battling it out are two players primed to win the #2 job.  I’ve always thought Brady Quinn was primed to be a really good backup for many years, and is clearly a favorite of Romeo Crennel, while Ricky Stanzi was drafted in the 5th round, though I had him graded out as a 2nd rounder.

We’ve heard rumor after rumor stemming from training camp, now it’s time for the tape to tell the tale.  While I believe Quinn can be effective in limited playing time, I really do see another Andy Dalton in Stanzi.  He is crafty, conservative but chancey, and committed to making a play above all obstacles.  I think he is a winner and, if he ever needed to start in a pinch, could command a huddle in ways Quinn can’t.

Quinn currently sits at the #2 on the Chiefs’ official depth chart.  After four preseason games, I believe Stanzi will have deserved to ascend there.

Tim Biere, fullback?

One of the few wide-open starting positions on the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs is the fullback position, something that new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll only utilizes occasionally.  Newly acquired RB bruiser Peyton Hillis doubles as a fullback, and the team’s coaches have discussed playing him there.

But I don’t see it.  With Charles recovering from injury and destined for a slight slump in his stats, Hillis is more valuable than ever — to say nothing of the fact that he’s really good running the ball between the tackles and as a receiver in the flat. He’s too valuable to pit him against linebackers, and the Chiefs need a full-timer at the position, even if they scantly use it.

If there’s a favorite at the position, it’s undrafted rookie TE Tim Biere, whom the team has converted to a hybrid fullback.  I can’t say I’ve seen much of Biere in action, but I’ve seen his primary competition in 2011 7th rounder Shane Bannon, and Bannon looks slow as molassis and has little ability in anything other than blocking.  Let’s hope Biere pans out, because the other options are dire.

Second half receiving.

You’re only reading this page if you’re a die-hard fan of this football team, which means you care more about more than just the starters on the field; you care just as much about the depth behind them.  As of now, the Chiefs boast an impressive top of the depth chart of WRs Dwayne Bowe (assuming you believe, as I do, that he’ll sign by week one), Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston.

After that, of course, the field is a mystery.  In the past, Cassel has struggled to utilize Dexter McCluster, who the Chiefs drafted in 2010’s second round with the intention of turning him into a slot guy.  The few times he has thrown the ball Dex’s way have gotten the tiny scatback slaughtered by headhunting linebackers.  This year the Chiefs drafted slot extraordinaire Devon Wylie out of Fresno State in the midrounds, so Dex’s grip on that role may have slipped, if not vanished altogether.

Undrafted rookie Josh Bellamy has impressed everybody, and Jeremy Horne and Terrance Copper were bit special teams players on last year’s squad.  As we all know, the real depth on this team emerges in the second halves of preseason games.  So don’t turn the game off when the halftime show starts.

Donald Stephenson.

The Chiefs have been criticized by the media and fans alike for a seeming lack of depth along the offensive line, and whether that’s justified remains to be seen. Right now, the criticism is not based on any player’s individual play, but instead on the collective inexperience of the second string.  When you consider their actual performance, second-round rookie Jeff Allen is getting rave reviews, whereas mainstay reserve center/guard Darryl Harris has always put in quality offseasons for the Chiefs.

But the quality of the second string rests entirely on the shoulders of Donald Stephenson, drafted this year in the third round in order to become the team’s backup left tackle, always a precarious position for every team to fill.  You would ideally have the athleticism and talent of a left tackle… yet somehow not be good enough to see the field.  I would argue it’s easier to find a good backup QB than it is a backup LT.

If Stephenson, an obvious project that will need grooming, holds the position down well, then not only is the reserve line wonderfully set for the season, the Chiefs can use his progress as leverage in order to land current incumbent LT Branden Albert at a better bargain.  Of course, if Stephenson is nowhere ready to see the field, then not only will Albert cost more to re-sign, Jeff Allen will likely have to back him up in case of injury, which would utterly deplete the second unit at guard.

Offensive line playcalls. 

In 2010, the Chiefs offensive line made phenomenal progress due to Barry Richardson’s progression at right tackle, the acquisition of Ryan Lilja at left guard, and most of all, ironman Casey Wiegmann returning to the franchise that discovered him to replace the talent-deprived Rudy Niswanger at center.

Wiegmann’s style at the line was commanding and savvy.  There were no interior stunts or blitzes he couldn’t detect and assign to his co-linemen.

It is with more than a little anxiety, then, that the talented Rodney Hudson, last year’s second-round selection, should settle into the role Wiegmann finally vacated. Hudson is an all-American talent, and showed very well last year, getting consistent push against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But that was at guard.  He is entering an entire season as The Man at the position one slot over.  We’ll see how he transitions.

Second half passrushing.

Much like the receiving corps, the field is wide open for the Chiefs at the outside linebacker position once you get past the incumbent starters, in this case OLBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

Cameron Sheffield is now two full seasons removed from 2010’s frightening neck injury that cost him a season.  He showed very little in 2011, but mostly that was because Tamba Hali never came off the field.  Andy Studebaker entered 2011 as the starter, but was overtaken by Houston on the depth chart, and remains a solid strong-side option as a reserve.

2011 fifth-rounder Gabe Miller didn’t have much of a chance to do anything last year, ending the season on IR.  And Edgar Jones, whoever that is, was recently scooped up from the Ravens’ waiver wire.

Anthony Toribio.

I am not surprised in the least that Romeo Crennel has buried this year’s first rounder NT Dontari Poe on the depth chart behind a veteran.  That’s Crennel’s style.  But the last player I expected Poe to end up behind was Anthony Toribio, a scrub holdover from the Todd Haley era.

I would have expected Jerrell Powe, who is even further down the depth chart.   I would have expected Amon Gordon, a DE/NT tweener whom Crennel clearly loves on the field, but Gordon’s not even listed as a NT.

Nope, instead, it’s the undersized, underskilled Toribio, a player who has never impressed me and my vivid-most memories of him in 2011 were getting destroyed by the second-string OL against the Packers in the preseason.

Crennel claims Toribio has made strides with technique.  Most believe that Poe will soon overtake him.  Here’s hoping its sooner than later, because I have yet to be impressed by him.

Brian Daboll’s vanilla playbook.

Brady Quinn talked up Daboll’s playbook soon after Daboll was hired.  Quinn, who played under Daboll’s playcalling in Cleveland years ago, argued that Daboll is a creative playcaller who designs all sorts of gimmick plays designed to keep defenses off their feet.

That’s obviously not going to happen in the vanilla preseason, but plenty will still be revealed: how he likes to balance his runs and passes, what timeshare he’ll arrange in the backfield between RB Jamaal Charles and Hillis, where he’ll put players like McCluster, TE Tony Moeaki (rumors are he’s lining Mo’ out wide!), and even Tim Biere.

What playcalls will he call for the three QBs?  How will he challenge them?  What will that tell us?

Special Teams.

Special teams is easily the Great Determiner of Rosters when two players have the same grade from the coaching staff.  Did we get a kick blocked?  Watch who missed the block.  Did we suffer a return for a touchdown?  Watch who was out of their lane.

The outstanding plays you’ll see special teamers make probably have less of a success of determining their chances to make the team than plays they’ve messed up. It will also be interesting to watch Wylie return kicks to see if he can secure that role with the team as two-year returnman Javier Arenas focuses more on corner.

Terrance Parks.

The team needs safety depth in the worst way, and undrafted free agent Parks is the one creating all the noise on the depth chart.  Both Kendrick Lewis and Eric Berry are injury liabilities this year, and while Travis Daniels is a flexible option for depth, he’s our only option, which simply won’t do if/when one of those two players get hurt.  Free agent Abe Elam is going to frustrate the hell out of Chiefs fans this year with his slow play and braindead decisions, and DeQuan Menzie is unproven.

Parks is the kind of guy teams need to win championships.  A guy who can come out of nowhere and plug in a cog on the team that was missing. He is a strong safety guy, one this team will sorely need to occasionally spell Berry instead of demanding the All Pro safety plays every snap this season.

The Chiefs typically carry ten defensive backs. Parks is the dark horse I’m backing.  I think his close relationship with Berry (they played high school ball together) will allow his development to progress throughout the offseason.

What are you watching for?