KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs were working on special teams Tuesday morning, specifically the field goal units, when Todd Haley’s voice cut through the air like a foghorn.
Rookie linebacker Justin Houston was late getting on the field with the first team kick block unit, and Haley let him know it. Forget about the content of the message — the volume of his voice alone was enough to convey a sense of urgency as the Chiefs prepare for their final preseason game.
“I felt like we’ve made improvements all along through training camp and the preseason,” Haley said, “and I feel like we’re doing that again. And if we make improvements, then I’ll feel good.”
Haley said the Chiefs have had perhaps their best week of training camp, even though it was a short one. After losing to St. Louis last Friday, they had heavy practices Sunday and Monday and worked out again Tuesday. They’ll take Wednesday off except for a walk through, and then head to Green Bay to face the defending Super Bowl champions on Thursday night.
Along the way, Kansas City was forced to cut its roster to 80 players by Tuesday afternoon. After releasing seven Monday, the Chiefs reached their limit by putting offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan on injured reserve and waiving kicker Todd Carter.
More decisions will have to be made soon.
Haley and his staff will be able to evaluate the Packers game Friday before making final roster decisions. Teams must cut to 53 players by Saturday. Then it’s on to game week, with the Buffalo Bills coming to town for the season opener Sept. 11 at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I really feel like we’ve been able to stay on schedule as far as how we want to do things,” Haley said. “I’ve fought the urge to be reactionary and do things we hadn’t really planned on doing.”
That’s taken some pretty solid self-control considering how poorly the Chiefs have performed in their first three preseason games. They were wiped out 25-0 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their opener, were trounced 31-13 by the Baltimore Ravens a week later, then watched the Governor’s Cup head back across the state when the Rams held on for a 14-10 victory last week.
The Chiefs have played their starters sparingly with quarterback Matt Cassel throwing all of 27 passes — and completing just 12. Running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have combined for 15 carries and 60 yards, and top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has four catches for 54 yards.
Cassel said he’s bought into Haley’s deliberate approach to the preseason, which was thrown in flux by the NFL lockout. But even he acknowledged it would be nice to throw a few more passes Thursday night before the games start to count.
“We’ve had three preseason games and you’re trying different stuff and all that,” Cassel said, “and we haven’t exactly pounded the rock like we did last year, and we’re still at this time trying to get used to some new players that we have and go forward from there
“We’ll see,” he said. “Again, it comes down to game plan and what the coaches put together.”
Haley wouldn’t reveal exactly how much he plans to play his first-string units at Lambeau Field, but he did say “our core guys will have a good amount of playing time.” That’s a departure from most Week 4 preseason games, when teams try to protect their starters from injuries.
Haley also said he feels comfortable with the players currently on the roster, despite several apparent holes that could be addressed as other teams make their cuts.
The Chiefs head into the regular season with only journeyman Tyler Palko and fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi backing up Cassel, unless they attempt to sign a veteran quarterback. They also lost some key depth on the offensive line when they put O’Callaghan on injured reserve.
Branden Albert and Barry Richardson appear to have locked down the starting tackle jobs, with late free agent signee Jared Gaither providing backup. Gaither was once an emerging star with the Baltimore Ravens before missing all of last season with a back injury, but he’s shown flashes of his old self and will be relied on even more heavily now that O’Callaghan is gone.
“I’ve been healthy since I’ve been here,” Gaither said. “Now it’s just really learning the playbook, getting out there and getting comfortable with the guys. I started to get there last week.”
Gaither knows that time is running out, though. So do the rest of the Chiefs.
“You know, the preseason is all about trying to get better,” Cassel said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s really about your team, because the ultimate goal is to be ready by Sept. 11.”