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Final Chiefs preseason game offers numerous hot spots to monitor

Aug 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC; Chiefs head coach Andy Reid reads the play sheet during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC; Chiefs head coach Andy Reid reads the play sheet during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Competition and evaluation are two areas the Chiefs will focus on considering starters aren’t expected to play Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Players on the roster bubble have a final opportunity to show the coaching staff they belong days ahead of key events:

• Saturday, Aug. 30: Final roster cuts to the 53-man roster due by 4 p.m. ET.
• Sunday, Aug. 31: Teams can establish the 10-man practice squad starting at noon ET.

The Chiefs’ current roster reflects many positions – starting and backup – still available for the taking, so performances will help shape the final 53.

There are numerous areas to monitor given that aspect.

The starting point is the team’s recent depth chart, which is published as “unofficial.” And that’s an important designation given the fluid nature with interchangeable players.

For example, wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. is listed fourth at split end, the “X” position, behind Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins and Albert Wilson.

Hammond, however, is projected to start Week One of the regular season at flanker, the “Z” position, in place of Dwayne Bowe, who will serve a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Another example of the moving parts arrives on the offensive line, where players listed at certain positions have moved up and down the line. Left guard Jeff Allen moving to right tackle in preparation of Donald Stephenson’s four-game suspension to start the season is a prime illustration.

Meanwhile, left outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who saw playing time at left inside linebacker during the third preseason game and also practiced at that position during training camp.

Using the team’s latest depth chart, keep a close eye on the following areas on the road to the final 53-man roster.

OFFENSE

Wide receiver
“X” or split end
Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins, Albert Wilson, Frankie Hammond Jr., Fred Williams

Wilson and Hammond emerged in training camp, and the Chiefs will have a decision as to how many wide receivers to initially keep in light of Dwayne Bowe’s one-game suspension. Hammond, who projects as the starter for Week One, can play the X and Z positions.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Avery, Jenkins and Chad Hall, who was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 1, 2013.

Left tackle Eric Fisher, J’Marcus Webb

New faces at the position compared to 2013. But depth behind Fisher is questionable and the Chiefs experimented with different combinations at left tackle throughout training camp.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Branden Albert and Donald Stephenson. Albert left via free agency in March.

Left guard Jeff Allen, Jeff Linkenbach, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mike McGlynn*

Allen projects as the starting right tackle for the first four games, and the Chiefs rotated Linkenbach and Ricky Henry at left guard with the first-team unit during the third preseason game. Allen played tackle in college, so the transition shouldn’t be hard on him.

*The Chiefs on Wednesday morning signed McGlynn. His projected playing spot has yet to be determined by the team, but left guard makes sense.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with just Allen at left guard.

Center Rodney Hudson, Eric Kush

Hudson is the clear starter at the center position with second-year pro Kush his primary backup.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Hudson and Kush.

Right guard Zach Fulton, Ricky Henry

Rookie Fulton, one of two sixth-round picks, projects as the regular season starter. Henry can play right and left guard, the latter is where the Chiefs gave him a hard look during the third preseason game.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Jon Asamoah, who left via free agency in March.

Right tackle Donald Stephenson, Ryan Harris

Stephenson’s four-game suspension to start the regular season hurts the offensive line not just because he’s the starter, but also because of his versatility to play left tackle. Additionally, the suspension has the Chiefs scrambling to find answers and fill depth.

The Chiefs are expected to move left guard Jeff Allen to right tackle. Harris’ exact role has yet to be determined.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Eric Fisher and Geoff Schwartz. Fisher moved to left tackle during the offseason. Schwartz, one of the team’s  swing offensive linemen in 2013, left via free agency in March.

Tight end Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Richard Gordon

One of the few positions on the roster without question marks. The pecking order is set as listed on the depth chart.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Fasano, Kelce and Sean McGrath, who retired in late July.

Wide receiver
Z” or flanker
Dwayne Bowe, Junior Hemingway, Kyle Williams, Mark Harrison

Plenty of questions at the Z position with Bowe serving a one-game suspension. Hemingway, who projects as the slot receiver, has battled hamstring and hip injuries in the last month. Frankie Hammond Jr. is projected to move from the “X” position and start the regular season here.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Bowe, Hemingway and Dexter McCluster.

Quarterback Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray

Daniel will start the first quarter Thursday night, with the remaining three quarters split between Bray and Murray. The Chiefs in theory could keep all four quarterbacks, but doing so limits flexibility at other glaring areas of need.

Here’s a tale of the preseason tape for the backup quarterbacks through three games:

• Daniel completed 11-of-14 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown against an interception, adding 17 yards rushing on two attempts. He completed 78.6 percent of his passes and holds a 108.6 rating. Daniel has been sacked three times.

• Bray completed 11-of-17 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown against an interception with a lost fumble. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes and holds an 81 rating. Bray has been sacked four times.

• Murray completed 5-of-10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown against an interception, adding -1 yard rushing on two attempts. He completed 50 percent of his passes and holds a 71.3 quarterback rating. Murray has been sacked once.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Smith, Daniel and Bray.

Running back Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, De’Anthony Thomas, Cyrus Gray, Charcandrick West, Joe McKnight

Charles, Davis and Thomas are locks, and the Chiefs have an interesting dilemma between Gray and McKnight. Gray leads the team in preseason rushing, but his tremendous value on special teams will give the Chiefs reason to pause before final roster cuts.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs entered the 2013 season with Charles, Davis and Gray.

Fullback  Anthony Sherman, Jordan Campbell

Sherman is the clear starter and the Chiefs aren’t likely to keep two fullbacks.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Sherman.

DEFENSE

Left defensive end Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard

Bailey projects as the regular season starter. Howard started all three preseason games at right defensive end in place of an injured Mike DeVito (hand). Howard made a strong case to survive final roster cuts with seven tackles (four solo), two sacks and a forced fumble in the three starts.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Tyson Jackson, Allen Bailey and Mike Catapano.

Nose tackle Dontari Poe, Vance Walker, Kyle Love, Dominique Hamilton

Determining Poe’s primary backup is a priority given the 1,004 snaps he played last season.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Poe and Jaye Howard, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 1, 2013.

Right defensive end Mike DeVito, Mike Catapano, Kona Schwenke

Outside of moving Jaye Howard to this position, the Chiefs may not have been afforded the opportunity to effectively assess the right defensive end position given the injuries. DeVito (hand) hasn’t played a preseason game, Catapano has missed 13 total practices since July 30 and all three preseason games with an illness, and Schwenke missed time with a shoulder injury.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with DeVito and Anthony Toribio.

Left outside linebacker Justin Houston, Frank Zombo, Josh Martin

Houston is the clear starter. His backups, Zombo and Martin, are flexible to play both sides on defense.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Houston, Zombo and Martin.

Left inside linebacker Joe Mays, Josh Mauga, Nico Johnson

Mays’ wrist surgery has this position in flux. Mauga missed the past two preseason games with a groin injury, but is practicing. Johnson started the third preseason game and shared repetitions with Zombo.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Akeem Jordan and Johnson. Jordan left via free agency in March.

Right inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, James-Michael Johnson, Alonzo Highsmith

No turnover at this position with Derrick Johnson the clear starter. James-Michael Johnson, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 1, 2013, is the clear backup.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with both Johnsons.

Right outside linebacker Tamba Hali, Dee Ford

Hali is the clear starter, and the Chiefs have played first-round pick Ford on both sides. This is a position where the depth chart after the starters won’t matter in the grand scheme, as Ford and Josh Martin have lined up on either side.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Hali and Dezman Moses.

Left cornerback Marcus Cooper, Chris Owens, Phillip Gaines, Justin Rogers

Cooper projects as the starter with Owens the nickel. Gaines, the team’s third-round pick, will make the roster before Rogers.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Brandon Flowers and Cooper, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 1, 2013.

Right cornerback Ron Parker, Sean Smith, DeMarcus Van Dyke

Parker is listed atop the depth chart, but Smith drew the start in the third preseason game. It will surprise if Smith doesn’t open the regular season as the starter. Van Dyke is locked in battle with rookie Phillip Gaines, as the Chiefs seek a fifth cornerback.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Smith, Dunta Robinson and Parker, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 1, 2013. The Chiefs released Robinson during the early part of the 2014 offseason.

Strong safety Eric Berry, Daniel Sorensen, Jonathon Amaya

Sorensen started all three preseason games while Berry rested his right heel. The rookie, who also contributes on special teams, is a virtual lock to make the 53-man roster as Berry’s primary backup.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Berry and Quintin Demps, who left via free agency in March.

Free safety Husain Abdullah, Malcolm Bronson, Kelcie McCray

Abdullah is the clear starter and Bronson’s emergence during training camp came at a good time considering Sanders Commings’ ankle injury, which landed him on injured reserve. It remains to be seen how the Chiefs view McCray, whom the team acquired via trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for guard Rishaw Johnson on Aug. 21.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs started the season with Abdullah, Kendrick Lewis and Commings, who was then placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. Lewis left via free agency in March.

SPECIALISTS

Punter Dustin Colquitt

Colquitt doesn’t have competition at the position.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: This is Colquitt’s job.

Kicker Ryan Succop, Cairo Santos

The battle between Succop and rookie Santos potentially comes to a head Thursday night, as both players are expected to kick.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: Succop was the lone place kicker on the roster.

Long snapper Thomas Gafford

Gafford has no competition at the position. His backup this season could be between tight end Travis Kelce and outside linebacker Frank Zombo, both of whom practiced long snapping in training camp.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: Gafford was the long snapper with tight end Sean McGrath as his backup.

Punt returner De’Anthony Thomas, Frankie Hammond

The electrifying Thomas, who had an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first preseason game, has a hammer lock on this position.

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs entered the season with Dexter McCluster and Quintin Demps, both of whom left via free agency in March.

Kick returner Knile Davis, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Frankie Hammond

The Chiefs have plenty of options to consider, and that’s even before including running back Joe McKnight in the mix. McKnight averages 29.01 yards per kickoff return on his career, which ranks as the third-highest return average in NFL history (minimum 75 returns).

2013 REFERENCE POINT: The Chiefs entered the season with Quintin Demps, Dexter McCluster and Knile Davis.