NEW ORLEANS — Andy Reid has a roster almost fully stocked with players new to him in a game environment. Everything is that fresh to Reid as he makes his debut as Chiefs head coach in Friday nights preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints (7 p.m. on KCTV Channel 5).
By ADAM TEICHER
The Kansas City Star
But Reid didnt hesitate when asked which players he was eager to see in the Superdome against the Saints: the Chiefs eight draft picks and particularly the four who are challenging for playing time.
I think theyre getting better, Reid said this week. Every day theyre a little bit leg-weary and this is a new pace for them but theyre getting better. Theyre pushing through it. Im curious to see how they do when the lights go on.
The rookies have got a ton of plays in. Its just a matter of making sure theyre figuring it all out and theyre comfortable with it and all of a sudden the speed of their game goes up.
The Chiefs have immediate expectations for their top four picks: first-round tackle Eric Fisher, third-round tight end Travis Kelce, third-round running back Knile Davis and fourth-round inside linebacker Nico Johnson. Fisher is already starting at right tackle and the Chiefs remain hopeful that Johnson can win a spot as a regular by the time the regular season begins Sept. 8 against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla.
Kelce and Davis wont be starters but the Chiefs expect them to help bring some life to what the past couple of seasons has been a sluggish offensive team.
Among the other four draft picks, sixth-round center Eric Kush and sixth-round fullback Braden Wilson are backups. The others, fifth-round defensive back Sanders Commings and seventh-round linebacker Mike Catapano, are injured and will not play against the Saints.
Here is a look at the top four draft picks and how theyre progressing:
• Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, looked lost when training camp started. He frequently appeared confused about whom to block when the defense blitzed and was often beaten in one-on-one pass rush and protection drills. Fisher acknowledged struggling with the transition from college at Central Michigan.
Obviously its been a long grind. he said. Going against these guys like Justin (Houston) and Tamba (Hali) every day, its definitely a competition. Im still adjusting a little bit. Im doing my best and making the most of it.
Fisher has shown some progress, but his position pops up as a problem spot if he has trouble against the Saints. On the other hand, if he handles himself well, the Chiefs can be confident he will be ready when the regular-season begins.
Hell be excited, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. Emotions will be running high. After he gets that first initial hit out of the way, hell settle down and hell do a nice job.
• Kelce was a star in the off-season practices. He lined up in a variety of spots and showed the ability to beat coverage down the field to make long catches.
Nothing has changed in that regard during training camp, but the return of injured tight end Tony Moeaki has cut into Kelces playing time. Still, the Chiefs are getting the ball to Kelce and are using enough multi-tight end formations that there should be enough snaps for Kelce, Moeaki and Anthony Fasano.
The challenge for Kelce will be to improve as a blocker. His playing time would only increase if he does.
• Davis, a notorious fumbler in college at Arkansas, hasnt lost one at training camp. Instead, hes been impressive when the Chiefs have handed him the ball.
Davis problems have come when the ball is in the air. Hes dropped numerous passes, at times relinquishing big gains in the process. He will have trouble getting a lot of playing time if that continues, given how Reid likes his quarterback to throw to the running back.
When I first got here, I was dropping a lot of them, Davis said. Im still dropping some but not as many as I was. Its a work in progress. Im getting more comfortable.
The Chiefs think a big and fast player such as Davis could make a great kickoff returner, and he may get one or more chances against New Orleans. But he dropped many chances in practice, so he appears to be a long way from winning the job.
His big thing is focus, special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. Hes never really done it in college. Were trying to utilize his talents as big guy that can run fast. Were really thinking we can develop him as a kick returner.
• The Chiefs have given Johnson some snaps with the starting lineup at the position otherwise occupied by veteran free agent Akeem Jordan. Johnson has made a number of big tackles against the run and if that continues, he will likely beat out Jordan by the time the regular season begins.
(Linebackers coach Gary Gibbs) asked me that question the other day: Do I feel like Im a better player than when I got (to training camp)? Johnson said. I do. I still make mistakes here and there. But Im trying to be as consistent as I possibly can.
Johnson comes out of the game on passing downs, so he will essentially be a run defender. But he needs to show he can cover passes when the Saints throw on running downs.
Hes like a lot of our guys, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. Hes got to keep getting better and better and better. I think everybodys been pleased with what hes done. He just needs a lot of reps.