Of all games for the Chiefs not to have inside linebacker Jovan Belcher or nose tackle Anthony Toribio available, Sunday’s opener against Atlanta may be as good as any.
The Falcons utilize multireceiver sets as much as any team in the league, with receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, plus tight end Tony Gonzalez. That will put the Chiefs in their nickel and dime coverage packages, which Belcher and Toribio do not play.
In the sub defenses, Belcher is replaced by a defensive back, and Toribio’s spot is taken by rookie Dontari Poe, who will also play the nose in the base 3-4 front.
“They have multiple personnel groups,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said of the Falcons. “We can play 34 defense versus everything, we can play nickel versus everything, but generally you choose to play your nickel versus multiple wide receivers.”
Atlanta uses multiple receivers so often, the Falcons list 12 starters — including veteran fullback Lousaka Polite, who is a deployed as a blocker in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Belcher, who was held out of practice Thursday because of a groin pull, was limited on Friday and listed as questionable, as was Toribio, who has been out two weeks because of an ankle injury.
Chiefs linebackers coach Gary Gibbs is counting on both Belcher and fellow inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is questionable because of an ankle injury.
“We’re confident they’ll be on the field, and we’re confident in the guys who are behind them,” Gibbs said. “In this league, you’re always nicked up we’re fully intending that Jovan will be 100 percent and ready to go.”Injury report
The Chiefs listed defensive end Allen Bailey (ankle), safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) and Toribio as doubtful. Besides Belcher and Johnson, they listed cornerback Jalil Brown (groin) and cornerback Brandon Flowers (foot) as questionable.Crennel in openers
Crennel is 0-4 in season openers as a head coach, all with the Cleveland Browns during 2005-08. So winning his first opener as the Chiefs head coach would be special for him, considering a new Kansas City coach hasn’t won his first season opener since Frank Gansz in 1987.
Not Marty Schottenheimer, not Dick Vermeil and not Todd Haley.
“As a head coach, you always want to get off to a good start,” said Crennel, who did win his debut as the Chiefs’ interim coach last Dec. 18 with a shocking 19-14 win over then unbeaten Green Bay. “And if you win the first one, it’s a pretty good start. It would be a good shot in the arm for all of us.”
Crennel has some fond memories of opening day.
“A couple of years ago, as defensive coordinator, it seemed like we beat a pretty good team that came in here,” he said of the Monday-night win over San Diego in 2010.Daboll vs. Nolan
Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan were in similar roles last year at Miami, so they know each other’s schemes and philosophies pretty well.
“He puts his players in good positions, he has multiple, multiple schemes so it’s been a grind these last 10 days,” Daboll said. “Anytime you play the first game of the season, there’s a little bit of the unexpected. You prepare hard, but Mike has a lot of different looks, he has a lot of different pressures, a lot of different fronts.”
So who has the advantage in this matchup?
“It’s who plays best on Sunday,” Daboll said. “You’ve got to give a good plan for the players, and the players have to execute, and we all have to try and do our part.”Missouri homecoming
Atlanta’s defense features two former Missouri Tigers: safety William Moore, a second-round pick in 2009, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, a first-round pick in 2010.
Weatherspoon had a breakout season in 2011, starting all 16 games and posting career highs with 127 tackles (86 solo) and four sacks. Moore started 11 games last year, made 62 tackles and had two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“Weatherspoon is a sideline-to-sideline player,” Daboll said. “He can fly to the football. He’s good in the pass, he’s good in the run. He can cover. He flies through those gaps and pressures. They put him on the line he plays in their nickel package. He’s all over the place. Moore can play in the deep part of the field, and he can tackle.”Hall of Honor additions
Two new exhibits and several newly acquired artifacts will be on display at the Chiefs Hall of Honor when the season opens Sunday.
The AFL Breaks the Color Barrier is a new exhibit that traces the history of the Chiefs uniform from the franchise’s days in Dallas to today’s new Nike jerseys. The other new exhibit, 50 Years in Kansas City, follows the team’s move from its roots in Dallas to Kansas City in 1963, including the “Operation Touchdown” campaign and the renaming of the team. Among the new items are former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez’ shoes from one of his 10 Pro Bowls. Gonzalez now plays for the Falcons.
Other new items on display include: the helmet of the Boston Patriots’ Jesse Richardson, the last full-time pro to play without a face mask; Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud’s AFL All-Star jersey from 1970, the final game in AFL history; Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram’s stopwatch with his name in tape on the back; badly worn Chiefs helmets belonging to E.J. Holub and Jerry Mays; Mo Moorman’s home Chiefs jersey; Otis Taylor’s warmup sideline sweater; Johnny Robinson and Jerrel Wilson’s Super Bowl IV jerseys; Derrick Thomas’ gloves with a “58” insignia; and Christian Okoye’s and Ron Jaworski’s shoulder pads.