ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — If Kansas City Chiefs fans could make a wish, they should probably plead for Matt Cassel’s continued good health.
Behind their Pro Bowl quarterback, at least early in camp, are two potential backups with a grand total of four NFL completions between them. And one guy has all of those.
Risky? No doubt. And there’s no guarantee the Chiefs won’t eventually bring in an experienced signal caller to compete with rookie Ricky Stanzi and Tyler Palko who has attempted just six passes since entering the NFL in 2007 as a rookie free agent out of Pittsburgh.
“We obviously think about those things across the roster, what-if scenarios,” Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. “And you can go all day talking about what-if scenarios.”
As the Chiefs get deeper into camp, they show no outward interest in bringing back Brodie Croyle. Winless in 10 starts for the Chiefs over the past five seasons, Croyle also had injury problems. When Cassel went out with an emergency appendectomy last season, Croyle didn’t help his cause when he hit only seven of 17 passes for 40 yards and got sacked four times in a 31-0 loss to San Diego.
So for now at least, it’s Stanzi and Palko. But for sure, front office eyes will be scanning the horizon for other possibilities as camp moves on.
“We’ve got to develop players and if we can do that, I think good things will happen,” Haley said. “Then we’ll be able to make good decisions off the information that we have. If at a point we feel like it’s too risky, then it’s up to us as an organization to do what’s necessary to try to improve the team. I don’t think we’re at that point right now. We’re working hard.”
Stanzi was drafted in the fifth round out of Iowa, whose coaching staff has a close relationship with Haley and some other members of the Chiefs. He’s got a strong arm and was 18-4 as a starter. His senior year, he hit 221 of 345 passes for 3,004 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Palko has the distinction of throwing for more yards at Pittsburgh than hall of famer Dan Marino did when he played at Pitt. He was out of football entirely in 2008, then was picked up by Pittsburgh in 2009. He was listed as the Steelers’ third QB in one game, but still got released.
The Chiefs signed him in 2010 and gave him what is so far his only NFL experience. He appeared in two games and hit four of six passes for 35 yards. He also carried twice for five yards.
This may be his last and best opportunity to gain a foothold in the NFL, at least as a backup. Not only is his competition a rookie, but his new quarterback coach was a left-handed passer just like him.
Jim Zorn has made a quick impression on all the Chiefs’ quarterbacks.
“He’s awesome,” Palko said. “Usually, all the quarterback coaches are righties. So being a lefty, he can nitpick on every little thing I do because he knows how to throw from the left side.”
Zorn, a former star quarterback for Seattle whose experience includes a stint as head coach for the Redskins, was hired just a few weeks after he was fired last winter by Baltimore.
“He’s really good, real thorough,” Palko said. “I think quarterbacks were all talking about him. He’s going to do a good job for us, a great addition.”
Haley is also hoping the left-handed Zorn will be especially helpful for a left-handed passer trying desperately to make it in the NFL.
“I thought of it even before I hired him,” Haley said. “Tyler is getting to that point where he’s got to make a decision whether he’s going to be a good player or not. By circumstances, opportunity — there’s a lot of things that go on with quarterbacks. Tyler, whenever he’s been in a game, he’s usually in with the threes and the fours and he runs around like a crazy man trying to keep plays alive.
“Jim was very athletic and tough and a lefty, and Tyler has some of those attributes. It’s nice for Tyler because he finally gets to see it from somebody who sees it from his side of the mirror.”