We have one more exhibition week to go in the 2022 NFL preseason.
The Kansas City Chiefs are wrapping up their three-game schedule by hosting the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 7 pm Arrowhead time.
The roster stands at 80 players and needs to get cut down to 53 between the end of this game and the beginning of the regular season. This game will be the last chance for some individuals on the roster bubble.
With plenty on the line for the players on the field, I have five things to watch:
1. Who is NOT playing
Last year, the Chiefs deployed their starting offense for two drives of their third preseason game — scoring touchdowns on both possessions before retiring to the bench. That doesn’t mean it’ll be the same this time around.
First of all, head coach Andy Reid was asked on Tuesday about his plan for players like quarterback Patrick Mahomes to play Thursday. He told reporters he hadn’t made up his mind quite yet. However, the starters have looked so efficient and ready for the real games, it’s understandable if Reid was satisfied with what he’s seen.
Last year, that wasn’t the case. In the first two preseason games, the Chiefs’ starters didn’t get much going. They had extended playing time in the second week, but things just weren’t clicking. It might have been more important to give them one more chance to put a good drive or two together.
So if you don’t see the starters take the field, you can interpret that as coach Reid feeling great about how his team looks — not needing to see any more from the top players.
2. The depth of the defensive line
One of the most intriguing position battles remaining is among the players looking to fill out the Chiefs’ defensive line depth.
In my opinion, there are seven locks to make the team on the defensive line: defensive tackles Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Tershawn Wharton — along with defensive ends Frank Clark, Mike Danna, George Karlaftis and Carlos Dunlap.
The Chiefs will most likely keep either nine or 10 at the position, and there are five total players fighting for those two or three spots left: defensive tackles Khalen Saunders, Taylor Stallworth and Danny Shelton — plus defensive ends Joshua Kaindoh and Malik Herring.
I think the team will end up choosing between one of Herring or Kaindoh, and I’ve personally been more impressed with Herring this preseason. On the interior, Saunders has come on strong and should be the front runner, but Stallworth and Shelton are getting one last chance to prove they’re worth stashing as a fifth defensive tackle and 10th overall defensive lineman.
3. The battle for swing tackle
The Chiefs starting offensive tackles for Week 1 seem to be set — with Orlando Brown Jr. on the left side and Andrew Wylie on the right.
Behind them, it’s hard to tell exactly what the team is thinking. Last week, the second-team offensive line featured Geron Christian at left tackle, with Prince Tega Wanogho as the right tackle. Once they left the field, it was Roderick Johnson at left tackle, with rookie Darian Kinnard as the right tackle.
The Chiefs have moved players like Christian, Tega Wanogho and Johnson to either the right or left spot at times in camp, signaling their desire to have a swing tackle behind the starters; someone who can play both left and right.
Christian seems to be the front-runner for that spot, but the appearance of Tega Wanogho at right tackle — knowing he has traditionally played at left tackle — may indicate that he is a contender for that role as well.
Either way, each player has one more chance to show they can be capable depth for the team this season.
4. Filling out the defensive backfield
The plan for the team’s defensive backfield depth is still not as clear as most positions are on the team currently.
Right now, it appears there are nine locks to make the roster: safeties Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, Bryan Cook and Deon Bush — who received high praise from special teams coordinator Dave Toub this week.
Then there are five cornerbacks: L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson; the latter two were singled out by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo this week as competitors for the role that Fenton’s groin injury gives way to.
It amounts to one spot left — and special teams ace Chris Lammons helped his case last week with two big defensive plays late in the game.
That said, rookie cornerback Nazeeh Johnson is similarly athletic and could be seen as having more upside, while second-year safety Zayne Anderson has been running with the starting special teams units at times.
Each of these players is receiving one more chance to survive the cutdowns next week.
5. How the team honors the late Len Dawson
Kansas City truly lost its original sports superstar on Wednesday, when the family of former Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson announced his passing at the age of 87.
The organization hasn’t dealt with a loss like this since the team’s founder Lamar Hunt passed away in December of 2006. After that, the team wore jersey patches in his honor — and have since established the Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat as a way to honor members of the Kansas City community that embody Hunt’s spirit in what they do for others.
Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt shared that there will be some sort of honoring of Dawson on Thursday night, but I’m hoping it doesn’t stop there. Dawson meant so much to every Chiefs fan — young or old — so I imagine he’ll be properly honored not only Thursday but this entire season.