Five things to watch for in tonight’s preseason opener against the Bengals:
Battle of backup QBs
Starter Alex Smith will play the first quarter, and then the free-for-all begins. Chase Daniel will get the second quarter, and his play has been spotty in training camp. But Daniel, whose job is clearly on the line, is one of those gamers who appears to play better in game conditions than in practice. Second-year man Tyler Bray will open the third quarter, and he needs to show some composure and decision-making ability. The preseason performances of Bray and fifth-round pick Aaron Murray, who will get the fourth quarter, will determine whether the Chiefs go with a youngster behind Smith and keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
Standing on the corner
Brandon Flowers is gone to San Diego, and Sean Smith has been banished to the second team. So how will second-year man Marcus Cooper and journeyman Ron Parker fare as the starters if the Bengals choose to challenge them with the likes of talented A.J. Green, who caught 11 TD passes last year, and Marvin Jones, who had 10? Newcomer Chris Owens will defend the slot receiver, and the Bengals’ Mohamed Sanu can be a handful.
Changing of the guards
The Chiefs have rotated rookie Zach Fulton and veterans Ricky Henry and Rishaw Johnson at the right guard spot vacated by free agents Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, and the rookie has had the edge. He’ll get tested by the Bengals’ Geno Atkins if the Bengals decide he’s sufficiently recovered from season-ending knee surgery from last year. The Bengals ranked fifth against the run last season, so all three guards also will be tested on the second level. (Keep an eye on Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, while you’re at it.)
Getting their kicks
The competition at place kicker is on. You don’t think the Chiefs’ staff still remembers Ryan Succop’s 41-yard miss at the end of that San Diego game last year? Rookie Cairo Santos, the Lou Groza Award winner at Tulane in 2012, has displayed a strong foot in camp and is a serious challenger to Succop, the club’s kicker since his rookie year of 2009. But kicking in camp and kicking in a game are two different things. The two-game experiment of kicking extra points from 33 yards out will add to the drama.
Where’s DAT guy?
Running back De’Anthony Thomas, the diminutive speedster from Oregon, has electrified training camp with his playmaking ability. The Chiefs have lined him up as a single back, as a twin back with Jamaal Charles and in the slot as a receiver. He’s dangerous wherever he gets the ball. A fourth-round draft pick, he will also return punts and appears to be a huge upgrade over Dexter McCluster as the little man who can make big plays.