August 16, 2014

Five things to watch in Sunday’s Chiefs-Panthers game

The Star’s Randy Covitz details five things to watch when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Carolina Panthers in their second preseason game at 7 p.m. Sunday in Charlotte. The game will be televised on Fox (Ch. 4 in Kansas City).

1. Move the football

Quarterback Alex Smith and the first-team offense are scheduled to play the first half, and they need to show more production than the meager 28 yards and two first downs (one by penalty) in three first-quarter possessions in the preseason opener against Cincinnati. Smith was bothered by the team’s inability to convert two third-and-short situations, and was peeved with himself for losing a fumble while being sacked. The offensive line is young, with an average age of 23.8. Eric Fisher, 23, is in his first season at left tackle after spending his rookie season on the right side; left guard Zach Fulton, 22, is a sixth-round draft pick this season; left guard Jeff Allen, 24, and right tackle Donald Stephenson, 25, are in their third seasons; and center Rodney Hudson, 25, is the graybeard but has started just one full NFL season. Carolina led the league with 60 sacks and allowed the fewest touchdowns, 21, in 2013.

2. A receiving line

Dwayne Bowe’s suspension for the regular-season opener will trigger a casting call for someone to step up as a receiving threat opposite Donnie Avery, who is inconsistent at best as a front-line player. This could be A.J. Jenkins’ opportunity to show he is worthy of being a first-round pick by San Francisco in 2012. Junior Hemingway, who missed last week’s game because of a hamstring injury, practiced all week and has the inside track on the slot receiver job. After that, it’s a free-for-all between veteran Kyle Williams, rookie sensation Albert Wilson, former practice-squad player Frankie Hammond Jr., Canadian Football League import Weston Dressler and former Missouri Tiger Jerrell Jackson. Someone needs to separate from the pack.

3. Cornerback revolving door

Sean Smith, banished to the second unit during the offseason program right after he was charged with a DUI, has seemingly reclaimed his right cornerback spot. Smith, who returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati’s second-teamers, took a majority of snaps with the first unit last week while Ron Parker, who was beaten for two big plays by the Bengals, got some looks at left corner in place of starter Marcus Cooper. Smith, who started 15 games last season and is the team’s sixth-highest-paid player, is still listed as second team on the team’s depth chart, but it would be surprising if he’s not with the starters against Carolina.

4. Safety first

Cornerback is not the only position in the secondary under scrutiny. Pro Bowl strong safety Eric Berry will miss his second preseason game because of a heel injury that doesn’t seem to be getting better. Daniel Sorensen, an undrafted rookie from BYU, will make his second start in place of Berry and was slow to help on a deep pass when Parker was badly beaten. Sorensen has shown a nose for the football in practice, and he’ll get a look at Panthers QB Cam Newton, who will be making his 2013 debut. Malcolm Bronson will back up Sorensen. In his first game since 2012, Bronson returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati.

5. More happy returns

One thing you can count on in a Chiefs preseason game — or any game, for that matter — is a touchdown return, be it a kickoff, punt, interception or fumble. In the 22 preseason, regular season and playoff games under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have 16 touchdown returns. They had three against Cincinnati — two interceptions and De’Anthony Thomas’ 80-yard punt return, and special-teams coach Dave Toub wants his return men to bring back every kick they can, even from deep in the end zone. About the only thing the Chiefs haven’t done under Toub is block a kick. Maybe that’s next.

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to Follow him on Twitter at @randycovitz.

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