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The Chiefs and NFL by beat writers Randy Covitz and Terez Paylor

Snap-count observations: What does Aaron Murray’s sparse playing time mean?

08/12/2014 9:15 AM

08/12/2014 9:58 AM

Here are some observations based on the snap-count data from the Chiefs’ 41-39 preseason win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 7. Numbers provided by the NFL.

Offense

*The Chiefs currently have 90 players on the roster, but only 53 players will make the team. Fortunately, preseason games can help you decipher some roster clues.

Fifth-round pick Aaron Murray only logged five snaps, which surprised some. But Murray is pretty clearly the fourth-string quarterback, and while I think he’ll make the team somehow, it’s important to see what Tyler Bray (17 snaps) and Chase Daniel (19 snaps) can do. The two are battling for the No. 2 job behind starter Alex Smith, and the Chiefs really need to see what Bray can do when in live action.

*The first thing I noticed Thursday is that guard Ricky Henry and tackles Ryan Harris logged the second- and third-most snaps of all the backup offensive linemen. Considering Henry has occassionally worked with the first team in camp, I feel pretty comfortable saying that right now, he projects as a swing guard who will make the roster. He played both left and right guard against the Bengals.

Harris also has a chance to make the roster due to his versatility at both tackle spots, though it’s worth noting that fellow tackle Ryan McKee logged the fourth-most snaps of all the offensive players Thursday and could nab a roster spot in a similar capacity. It’s definitely worth noting that McKee played both tackle spots Thursday, while I only saw Harris play on the left side.

*One thing that surprised me is how little J’Marcus Webb played (only five snaps). Either he’s far behind the likes or Harris and McKee or the staff already knows what he can do.

*De’Anthony Thomas only logged four offensive plays, but on one of them I saw him start out as a running back and split out wide. Get used to that — we’ll see how he does in the regular season, but right now he has the look of a multidimensional weapon.

*Backup tight ends Richard Gordon and Adam Schiltz didn’t play much (only eight snaps combined). Meanwhile, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris both logged 18 snaps. It’s pretty clear the staff wanted to get a really good look at two players who have the athleticism to help this year.

Defense

*Josh Mauga played 38 snaps, which is 21 more than 2013 fourth-round pick Nico Johnson, who can’t seem to get off the third team and didn’t make his first appearance until the third quarter.

Considering the Chiefs signed Mauga during the beginning of camp, that’s probably not a great sign for Johnson’s candidacy to make the team, though the coaches (Andy Reid, Bob Sutton) have seemingly gone out of their way to praise him in recent weeks.

Keep an eye on this situation. Reid has noted that Johnson is better against the run than he is against the pass, though he’s tried hard to make some strides in this area. But with the league becoming more pass-heavy, it’s important for linebackers to be able to cover.

*James-Michael Johnson played 42 snaps, the most of any Chiefs inside linebacker. He’s not only the team’s top backup behind Derrick Johnson, he also earned some reps on the first-team in their nickel package.

You can read more about JMJ in today’s Star, but this is a pretty interesting development. Last year, the Chiefs often preferred to use safety Eric Berry as a linebacker in passing situations. If JMJ proves to be a legitimate option in the regular season, the Chiefs could let Berry roam a bit more, which is what fans seem to be clamoring for.

*Dee Ford and Josh Martin, who are looking more and more like the top options at outside linebacker behind starters Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, played 54 and 38 snaps, respectively. That ranks first and fourth among all of the Chiefs’ defensive players, and that’s certainly not a mistake.

In Ford’s case, as my good friend Nick Jacobs first pointed out on Twitter, he’s still developing as a pass rusher. He’s got exceptional quickness and closing burst but it’s important for him to get as many reps as possible so he can continue to develop his repertoire of pass-rush moves. He recorded three quarterback hurries and two quarterback hits against the Bengals.

In Martin’s case, this might be a situation where the staff wants to see what they have. He played 22 more snaps than Frank Zombo, who was the top backup last year. The Chiefs already know what they have in him. Martin worked hard this offseason to improve can could fill a role as a rotational pass rusher if he continues to show improvement. He officially recorded two tackles against the Bengals, though Pro Football Focus has him down for a quarterback hurry.

*Keep an eye on the second-team safeties Sunday against Carolina. It’s a three-man race among Jerron McMillian, Daniel Sorensen and Malcolm Bronson, but Bronson was the third safety against the Bengals had a great interception.

*Rookie third-round cornerback Phillip Gaines lined up as a nickel cornerback and also played out wide.

*Third-year defensive tackle Jaye Howard carried a huge load with defensive end Mike DeVito sitting due to injury. He logged 45 plays, the second most on the entire defense. He fared pretty well too, recording a sack and three tackles.

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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