He’s the Chiefs’ forgotten man.
But Ricky Stanzi remains at the ready, if allowed the opportunity.
Now more than halfway through his second season in the NFL, the fifth-round draft pick out of Iowa is still awaiting his first regular-season snap.
Read that again. Twenty-six games that count, zero seconds on the playing field.
Sitting him made sense last season, when the Chiefs’ musical-chairs quarterback situation included Matt Cassel, who was coming off a Pro Bowl year; capable NFL journeyman Kyle Orton; and, ahem, Tyler Palko.
In that world order, especially as a rookie, Stanzi was best off on the bench.
But that scenario has long been supplanted by a bizarro reality in which the Chiefs are 1-9, Orton and Palko are long gone, and the two signal-callers ahead of Stanzi on the 2012 depth chart — Cassel and Brady Quinn — seem to have a running bet over who can log the most concussions by season’s end.
Following Sunday’s 28-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, while reporters crowded around Cassel and Quinn, I sidled up to Stanzi and asked how he’s been doing.
He’d been declared an “inactive player” before kickoff, meaning that even if both Cassel and Quinn went down with injuries during the game, the Chiefs could not look his way. Instead, they’d be forced to unveil their “emergency quarterback,” which is another discussion entirely.
Anyway, here was Stanzi, wearing street clothes and tucking a pair of headphones neatly into a duffle bag, about to exit the locker room without drawing as much as a second glance.
His long hair pushed behind his ears under a ball cap, he smiled when I asked what it’s like to not know until hours before kickoff whether he’d need a helmet that day. Only once this year, for the Pittsburgh game, has Stanzi been designated as active.
“When you’re inactive, you try to stay as focused on the game as you can and help out,” he said. “You can help out with coverages, you can help out with seeing if someone on a route might be open. You just stay in the game.”
This prompted me to wonder what “stay in the game” might mean for a guy who had no shot of getting on the field that day.
“For me, in this position,” he said, “I’m just really trying to learn and soak up as much as I can each day and find stuff to work on and improve — whether it’s the mental side of the game, the physical side of the game.
“This being my second year, it’s a lot easier than it was last year, and hopefully that just continues to progress.”
Progress not being a word associated with the Chiefs this season, I then asked Stanzi how he deals with negativity. You’ll recall that many fans wore black clothing to Sunday’s game, their way of protesting perceived mismanagement of the team at the highest level.
What seems like ages ago, many of those same fans clamored for a real, live look at Stanzi during a game. They even hatched a hashtag on Twitter —#stanzination
— to show their support. Yet, still, Stanzi sat.
“You’ve got to keep it on the outside and don’t let it creep in,” Stanzi said, “because that creates a kind of spiral effect, where you’re thinking about the wrong things and you’re not focusing on what you need to do. The game is tough enough as it is.”
Asked about Stanzi on Wednesday, head coach Romeo Crennel didn’t sound inclined to look his way anytime soon.
“Ricky has been working very hard since he’s been here, and he has a command of the system,” Crennel said. “He knows what to do and if he gets the opportunity, I think that he’ll go in and represent himself well. He’s just waiting for the opportunity.”
Could Stanzi be a difference-maker this season, or possibly beyond? Odds are against it. Quarterbacks taken in the fifth round in the last five drafts — 13 in all, including 2007 — have made just 32 combined starts in the NFL. John Skelton, the Arizona Cardinals’ on-again/off-again starter, has accounted for half of those.
In fact, you have to go clear back to 1993 to find a QB selected in the fifth round who actually had what you’d call a career.
Mark Brunell, taken by Green Bay out of Washington, retired in 2011 following 17 years in the NFL. During that time, he led Jacksonville to three division titles. He even owns a Super Bowl ring, earned with New Orleans as Drew Brees’ backup in 2009.
Let’s stop here, because the last thing I want to do is give the impression that I think Ricky Stanzi is going to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Then again, I wouldn’t bet my children’s college savings that he can’t, either.
Fact is, we don’t know what Stanzi is capable of doing, because the Chiefs haven’t really given him a shot. And with six Sundays left in this sad-sack season, perhaps it’s time they did.