Preseason Game 1: Saturday’s keys for the Chiefs

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3. A serviceable defensive line sans Poe.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, news of Dontari Poe’s surgery for a herniated disc sent shockwaves through Chiefs Kingdom. That can be attributed to the mystery surrounding his return. There’s no good way to predict when Poe will get back to playing football, but the early reports suggest he’ll miss the rest of training camp and possibly the first two games of the regular season. The two-time Pro Bowler is a key cog in the wheel of the league’s 2nd-ranked scoring defense. There are concerns that the entire unit will take a significant hit behind Poe’s absence, but subsequent news about Jaye Howard’s newly-minted 330-pound frame is reassuring.

Howard will need to prove that he can be serviceable in Poe’s stead as a run stuffer and space eater. Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston are so much more effective when the man in the middle of the defensive line draws double teams. A weak link in the Chiefs’ front could cancel out the gains they were expecting from returning starters. The effect on Kansas City’s run defense may be the easiest way to determine where this group is at this stage of their 2015 campaign.

4. A persevering Marcus Peters.

If I had to hazard a mildly-informed guess about the biggest challenges a rookie cornerback faces in year one of their NFL careers, I’d argue that having confidence and overcoming bad plays are the top two things on that list. Peters has already experienced the highs and lows of the NFL game during the first half of training camp. One day he’s picking off a trio of passes during team practice. The next, he’s struggling to keep pace with a fleet-footed receiver executing a double move. I think it’s likely those peaks and valleys will characterize his rookie season and I’m anxious to see how he’ll rebound from surrendering a big reception.

Peters has proven himself to be a unique talent with all of the God-given tools necessary to becoming a good cornerback in the NFL. The biggest test will be keeping himself centered when he does falter at this level. This is especially important given Sean Smith’s forthcoming three-game suspension to start the season. Peters may be called upon to be a starter in Smith’s absence. The quicker he can learn to shake off mistakes, the better off he’ll be when the games start to count.

Next: Final thoughts...