KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have barely worked out in pads. They haven’t scrimmaged at all during training camp. Their full-speed, 11-on-11 contact portion of practice Wednesday night lasted all of six plays, and the starters took off their shoulder pads before it even began.
Ready or not — and there’s a likelihood of not — preseason football has arrived.
The Chiefs open their four-game exhibition schedule against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium, after just two weeks of a most unusual camp, and nobody is quite sure what to expect.
Turnovers and penalties? There’s a good chance. Missed assignments and mixed up personnel groups? A pretty good assumption. An important opportunity for first-year players to make an impact after a condensed training camp?
Chiefs coach Todd Haley and Buccaneers counterpart Raheem Morris sure hope so.
“Our No. 1 goal always is to be ready for the opening of the season,” Haley said. “These preseason games are part of the process, from the evaluation to getting the players ready to all those things.”
The Chiefs have not said how long their starters will play, though quarterback Matt Cassel plans to start the game. The amount of time they spend on the field will probably depend on how successful they are during their first series; a nice, long touchdown drive and one could be enough.
Offensive coordinator Bill Muir said he’s more concerned about the rookies that are trying to make the team than the veterans who are already assured of their roster spot. Muir figures that starters will play more later in training camp, a departure from the typical preseason schedule, and that the opening game represents the best opportunity for draft picks and first-year free agents to make a statement.
“Obviously we want to move the ball and score points,” Muir said, “but the thing we’ve been emphasizing is improving our tempo and being physical and being a smart team. But having said that, this is a huge opportunity for a lot of young players to show whether they can contribute or not.”
So expect to see plenty of fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi and journeyman Tyler Palko, the Chiefs’ two backup quarterbacks. Keep an eye out for Jerheme Urban, Terrance Copper and the rest of the wide receivers trying to make the team. Look for young defensive linemen like Jerrell Powe and Allen Bailey, who hope to eventually move into the starting lineup and give Kansas City the stout front that was missing a year ago.
One question was answered after practice Wednesday, when quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn let slip who has assumed the play-calling duties. It had been unclear throughout camp who’ll be in the press box after Charlie Weis departed for Florida, with many assuming that Haley would take over the role.
Instead, Muir will call the plays with input from Zorn and Haley.
“He’ll have the game plan in front of him. I’m sure he’ll take some suggestions, but he’s had a good feel this training camp and he’s been mixing it up and he’s an expert in the run game and he has a good feel of the passing game,” Zorn said. “This game plan is going to be a cut-down game plan, and we’re going to have a certain group of plays that we’re going to want to implement and execute.”
Yes, prepare for plenty of scripted plays and vanilla offense, too.
Morris expects to give the Tampa Bay starters between 15 and 20 plays, which he thinks will be a little more than a quarter. But he stressed that a number of factors could change that plan, and the starting offensive line will be in the game as long as third-year quarterback Josh Freeman is under center.
The former Kansas State quarterback will be playing in Arrowhead Stadium for the first time, even though he was born in Kansas City and starred at nearby Grandview (Mo.) High School.
Freeman said it’ll be “exciting” to play in the stadium where he attended games as a kid, and acknowledged that he rooted for the Chiefs as a kid. He also recalled how Arrowhead always “rocks” for Chiefs games, but doesn’t believe the atmosphere will be quite so carnival-like for a preseason game.
“It’ll be fun,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got a lot of family and friends who’ll be there.”
Morris knows what to expect from Freeman, who started all 16 games during a breakout season a year ago, throwing for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
But just like Haley, Morris has no idea what to expect from the Buccaneers’ own group of rookies.
“It’ll be a little bit of a scenario where we watch the young guys, who I have no idea of what they’re going to do in pads, except what I watched on college tape,” he said. “To see what they can do under the lights and in the pros, that’s the fun part of our jobs. To watch those guys get better from Week 1 to Week 2 is also a challenge, so that’s a lot of fun for me as well.”