The only thing standing between now and regular season football is tonight's episode of Governor's Cup Paradise between the Rams and the Chiefs. With the Saturday deadline to get down from 75 to 53 Rams on the roster, tonight's a key audition for roughly two dozen or so guys at the back of the roster.
To try to feel out what kind of opposition those guys will be facing for the majority of the game tonight, I linked up with Joel "Winterbone" Thorman from Arrowhead Pride, SB Nation's community for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs.
How are the returns on offense so far? You guys have been low in terms of yardage, but outperform similar teams in points. Any indication of a big jump coming offensively in 2015?
I'm not quite sure what to make of the offense honestly. The first two weeks of the preseason the Chiefs offense looked pretty average, at best. But then last week they came out and looked just terrific. I mean, it was one of the best stretches I've ever seen the Andy Reid-led Chiefs offense look, so that's really encouraging. This is the third year that the entire coaching staff and Alex Smith have been together. They have one of the league's top tight ends and Alex Smith loves to throw to tight ends. Jeremy Maclin's speed works well with Alex Smith. And then there's Jamaal Charles who is gonna do what Jamaal Charles does. So, yeah, I do think this offense will be better than last year when they were ranked 16th in scoring. But ultimately this isn't a high-flying, deep-ball offense that will be scoring 35 points a game. It still starts with the Chiefs defense.
Defensively, though, you guys have been monsters. With the additions from the draft, what are the expectations on that side of the ball? How much better can you guys get on defense?
They should be really good again. History says Justin Houston probably won't have 20 sacks and Tamba Hali could be entering his final season. But the Chiefs have so many other pieces to be excited about, along with real depth. The secondary should be nails. Sean Smith, who is the top corner, will be suspended the first three weeks of the season but the Chiefs have last year's third round pick in Phillip Gaines and this year's first round pick in Marcus Peters to replace him. That means the Chiefs will be going three deep with corners that look legit. The depth at safety? Eric Berry and Tyvon Branch are second team safeties. I think that says a lot. The Chiefs will be missing Dontari Poe early on this season as he had back surgery but they return Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito so the run defense should be better. I think it's safe to say this is a top 5-10 defense next season and will be a major reason the Chiefs do or don't make the playoffs.
Speaking of the draft class, how does it look through three preseason games? How has Mitch Morse looked with the move to center? Any late-round gems blossoming to this point?
The draft class is coming along nicely. Probably the best of the three that GM John Dorsey has had so far. Let's bullet point this:
- CB Marcus Peters, as mentioned, is likely to be an early season starter. He looks like the real deal.
- C Mitch Morse was a surprise pick but he's one of those guys that football people love because he's capable of playing multiple positions on the line. He looks like the opening day center.
- WR Chris Conley is one of those athletic freaks. He will have the opportunity to potentially be the third receiver at some point this season. Playing receiver for Andy Reid is hard so he might take a little more time.
- CB Steven Nelson could be a future nickel back but it will be tough to get on the field this year with the depth at safety.
- The Chiefs have struggled to find strong side LBs in the Andy Reid era but they found one in Georgia's Ramik Wilson. He has a shot to unseat LB Josh Mauga for the starting job.
- LB DJ Alexander, another Oregon State player like Nelson, plays Derrick Johnson's position. But he won't be seeing defensive action this year.
- TE James O'Shaughnessy is athletic and comes from a small school so I didn't have high hopes for him early on. But turns out, he's probably the No. 2 tight end until Demetrius Harris gets healthy.
- Sixth round pick DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches and seventh round pick WR Da'Ron Brown won't make waves this year but have the potential to be contributors down the line.
Obviously with game four, we're going to get a long, long look at the tail of the 75-man roster. Who has played their way into contention for the 53-man? Any UDFA surprises? Who should Rams fans be prepared to recognize?
He won't play because he is hurt now, but my favorite UDFA so far is LB Justin March. He reminds the Chiefs a little of Bart Scott. Too bad he just went to IR. Another player to watch for is WR Fred Williams, who leads the team in receiving this preseason. He's one of those guys whose names hardcore Chiefs fans might have recognized heading into this season because he spent two years on the practice squad but he kind of came out of nowhere this preseason. We weren't counting on him for a potential roster spot.
Overall, what are the expectations for 2015? The last two decades have been pretty volatile for you guys since the end of the Marty Schottenheimer era. Are you confident that Andy Reid has put you guys on a more stable course for success? The 2-win 2012 isn't all that distant. How surprised are you at the turnaround and how assured are you that it's firmly in the past and that the challenge is no longer to turn into a perennial winner but rather about how far you go in the postseason?
Andy Reid has stabilized the franchise with 20 wins in the last two seasons. It's not a flash in the pan thing either like it was with the 2010 Chiefs. This team has legit depth. They're going to cut players that end up playing for other teams. That hasn't happened in a loooong time in Kansas City. This is the third year so I think expectations are ramping up a little bit. The Chiefs have not won a playoff game since 1994 (I know) so the goal remains getting into the dance and winning one. We all have our opinions about Alex Smith and whether the Chiefs can make a Super Bowl ... but just win a damn playoff game first.
Thanks to Winterbone for the time.