Here are five things to watch for in the Chiefs’ preseason opener Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals. The game is at 8 p.m. in Glendale, Ariz., and will be broadcast on KCTV (Ch. 5).
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1. How much will Eric Berry be involved?
Berry’s inspiring comeback story from Hodgkin lymphoma continues Saturday, but what isn’t clear is how much Berry will be involved. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that he’s optimistic Berry will play, but whether that happens remains to be seen, since Berry hasn’t done much hitting in camp. If he does play, it will be interesting to see what kind of role he’s in. Throughout training camp, the three-time Pro Bowler has consistently been working with the second-team base defense, although he’s gotten some first-team work in its defensive subpackages. Regardless, the best story of camp will continue to build momentum leading up to the Chiefs’ Sept. 13 season opener against the Houston Texans.
2. Can the offensive line protect Alex Smith?
This is the key to the season, and don’t let anybody tell differently. Quarterback Smith has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but he took way too much punishment last year, and if the offensive line doesn’t do a better job in pass protection, you’ll see the same dink-and-dunk offense from a year ago. Left guard Ben Grubbs is rock solid, but questions abound on the rest of the line. Left tackle Eric Fisher, center Mitch Morse, right guard Zach Fulton and right tackle Jeff Allen all have plenty to prove.
3. How do the young corners fare?
First-round pick Marcus Peters has had a strong camp, flashing good anticipation and aggressiveness. He’s been beaten for a few long balls, but secondary coach Al Harris has used those as teaching moments. The Chiefs will need Peters and third-round rookie Steven Nelson, who has also been beaten a few times, to mature quickly and contribute early in the season while No. 1 corner Sean Smith serves his three-game suspension.
4. What about the inside linebackers?
This is the position to keep an eye on. Derrick Johnson looks great after his Achilles injury, but his sidekick Josh Mauga missed practice Wednesday with a heel injury. If he doesn’t play, rookie Ramik Wilson appears to be the next man up, although he hasn’t made as many splash plays in camp as undrafted rookie Justin March, who earned praise from coach Reid this week. Fifth-round rookie D.J. Alexander went down Wednesday with a high-ankle sprain, so the depth of this group is being severely tested, although the Chiefs could always compensate by sliding one of their plethora of safeties in the box as a defacto linebacker.
5. How much better has Aaron Murray gotten?
Murray hasn’t gotten any game action since this time last year, so it will be very interesting to see how far the 2014 fifth-round rookie has come along since then. He’s thrown some nice passes in camp — even some deep ones — but consistency is the biggest key for him. He’s got to flash it more often.