Here are five things to keep an eye on in the Chiefs’ second preseason game Friday against the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium (7 p.m. on KCTV, Channel 5).
1. Can the offensive line hold up?
You’re probably tired of reading about this, but the first-string offensive line’s ability to pass protect remains one of the biggest concerns on this team. Injuries to starting tackles Jeff Allen and Eric Fisher have zapped the unit of depth, particularly on the edges, so all eyes will be on their replacements. The good news is that Fisher’s replacement, Donald Stephenson, might feel more comfortable on the left side, where he started two years in college. It appears Allen’s replacement will be Paul Fanaika, a 6-foot-5, 327-pounder who Chiefs coach Andy Reid complemented for his strong punch and hands. If he indeed plays at tackle, however, it will be important for him to show he has the footwork to survive out there. This could also be the first extended look that second-year pro Laurent Duvernay-Tardif gets with the first team at right guard for Zach Fulton. Duvernay-Tardif has good athleticism and strength and will look to show that he’s made some strides in the mental side of the game.
2. Preseason debuts
A handful of intriguing players could be making their preseason debuts on Friday. The first is rookie receiver Chris Conley, whose size and athleticism jumped off the charts in organized-team activities and have flashed in training camp. He missed the first game as he worked his way back from a knee strain, but he has consistently practiced since then. The next is big defensive end Mike Catapano, who has flashed power and quickness throughout camp and could help on passing downs. He missed the first game as he recovered from a groin injury. Tackle Garrett Frye (knee) and receiver Jeret Smith (hamstring) returned to practice this week after recovering from their injuries and could play.
Also keep a close eye on inside linebacker, where Reid already said the starter Josh Mauga won’t play due to a heel injury, so expect fourth round-rookie Ramik Wilson to get the nod next to Derrick Johnson as a starter. An unfortunate meniscus tear to undrafted rookie Justin March also will keep him out for this game and probably much longer. That clears more playing time for others, including James-Michael Johnson — a part-time starter last year who missed the first preseason game with a calf strain — and fifth round-rookie D.J. Alexander, who also missed last week’s game, albeit with a high-ankle sprain. The Chiefs also signed Ja’Gared Davis this week to provide more depth. He figures to get some work with all the injuries at the position.
3. Will the K-State connection be up and running?
The Seahawks drafted former Kansas State star Tyler Lockett in the third round, shortly after the Chiefs decided to take Missouri center Mitch Morse in the second. Those that wanted to Lockett become a Chief will get a chance to see him Friday. Lockett was electric in his preseason debut last week, returning a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown and another for 46 yards in the first quarter. What’s more, the Seahawks signed former K-State quarterback Jake Waters on Tuesday, so the potential for a Waters-Lockett reunion on the Arrowhead field is at least possible, though Waters may not play since he just joined the team.
4. Eric Berry watch
Eric Berry only logged eight snaps last week, so it will be interesting to see how much work he gets in this game. Berry, of course, defeated Hodgkin lymphoma this offseason and made his triumphant, emotional return last Saturday against the Cardinals. However, this will be his first game at Arrowhead since his diagnosis, which means he’s in line for a mountain of applause when he runs out onto the field the first time.
Seattle, by the way, has a cancer comeback story of its own in defensive tackle Jesse Williams, who had a cancerous kidney removed three months ago and made a pair of tackles in the Seahawks’ exhibition opener last Friday.
5. Will the first-string offense be better this time?
Reid was clearly happy with the second-string unit last week, as Chase Daniel lit the Cardinals up for three touchdowns. But the first-string offense sputtered, accumulating only a field goal on three drives, while quarterback Alex Smith also threw a ghastly interception.
On Wednesday, Reid said the starters would play something close to a half. Smith also explained what he hoped to see from the offense this time around. “Obviously not turn the ball over, that’d be the big one,” Smith said. “You want to go out and execute. You want to have some success, you want to score some points, you want to put some drives together. Things are going to happen, this is the time to work out some of that stuff. Going out there, letting your fundamentals take over, go out and make some plays and get in a rhythm.”