With the Chiefs set to play their first regular-season game in less than a week, coach Andy Reid revealed a few interesting notes on his depth chart Monday.
▪ Reid said outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who sat out the entire preseason but is still lean and mean after offseason knee surgery, probably won’t play every defensive snap Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
“I don’t think Tamba will play the full load, just based on sheer age and wear and tear on the body, so he’ll be in a rotation,” Reid said. “If you keep him in there, he’ll go 8,000 mph. He does it in practice and he’ll do it in games, which you love.”
Over the last year, the Chiefs have gone out of their way to rest the 32-year-old Hali, whose knees have ached and swelled up the last few seasons. It has not stifled his effectiveness though, as he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons.
Dee Ford is currently the other starter at outside linebacker — star Justin Houston is out for the first six weeks, at least — and the Chiefs’ top backups there are currently veterans Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses, though Reid said sixth-round rookie Dadi Nicolas flashed during the preseason and could conceivably earn a limited role.
▪ Reid said it’s reasonable to think safety Eric Berry could play the entire game on Sunday.
“(It) is a matter of seeing where he’s at and how he’s feeling,” Reid said. “Yeah, there’s a chance.”
Berry sat out the entire preseason after the club failed to sign him to a long-term deal this summer, but returned to the club early last week all smiles and ready to work.
The next man up behind Berry and fellow starter Ron Parker is third-year pro Daniel Sorensen, an undrafted rookie in 2014 who opened some eyes in camp with his hard hitting.
▪ Reid said Phillip Gaines is his starting right cornerback, provided he’s healthy.
The Chiefs have taken it slow with Gaines, who tore his ACL late last September against Green Bay. However, he appeared briefly in the Chiefs’ third preseason game against Chicago on Aug. 27, though it remains unclear how much of a load he’ll be able to shoulder, at least early on.
Others who have earned plenty of playing time with the first-string units over the past month include second-year pro Steven Nelson and, to a lesser extent, rookie sixth-rounder D.J. White.
▪ The Chiefs claimed Dallas offensive tackle Bryan Witzmann because of his versatility, but if starter Eric Fisher were to get hurt at any time, Reid said Fisher’s likely replacement would be starting right tackle Mitch Schwartz. Schwartz last played left tackle in college at Cal five years ago, but has a reputation as a dependable player — he didn’t miss a snap in his first four years with Cleveland — and sound technician.
▪ Reid said Chris Conley and Albert Wilson will rotate in as the “X” — or No. 2 receiver — across from Jeremy Maclin, while Wilson will be their inside/slot receiver. Conley has appeared to seize the No. 2 job, however, as he’s earned the overwhelming majority of first-string reps next to Maclin in two-wide packages this preseason.
▪ To the naked eye, receivers Tyreek Hill and De’Anthony Thomas might look alike. But while each players is blazing fast, their body types — Hill is 5 feet 10 and 185 pounds while Thomas is 5 feet 9 and 176 pounds — make them different.
“One is probably faster than the other and one might be a little bit quicker than the other, but not too much,” Reid said. “They both give us the return ability and have developed into pretty good receivers. De’Anthony knows the inside (position) better than what Tyreek does, but Tyreek knows more of the outside stuff, so that’s the difference there.”
By the sound of that, it appears Thomas will largely continue to function as a gadget/slot receiver while Hill — who did receive some carries as a runner throughout training camp — is being brought along as more of a pure outside receiver.
▪ No surprise here, but rookie Chris Jones has worked his way into the regular rotation alongside the starting interior defensive line of Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey.
“It will be similar to what you saw in the third preseason game,” Reid said. “He’ll get in there and play until he proves us different. I thought he had a good preseason.”
No doubt. Jones, a second-round pick who stands 6 feet 6 and weighs 308 pounds, was disruptive throughout the preseason, racking up seven tackles, multiple pass deflections and multiple hurries. He flashes a natural, nasty swim move and has an impressive combination of size and burst.
The Chiefs’ plan for him became clear on Thursday, when Jones sat out the entirety of the fourth preseason game, along with the rest of the starters and major contributors.
▪ The Chiefs liked new inside linebackers Sam Barrington’s hard-hitting and special-teams ability — which is why they claimed him off waivers this weekend — but second-year pro Justin March-Lillard remains the starter next to Derrick Johnson, Reid said.