KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) dress rehearsal for the season opener continues Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Bears (0-2) at Soldier Field.
Head coach Andy Reid wants his players to treat this week of the preseason just like a regular-season game week, and that’s how the game should look for the first half. But it’s still a preseason game, and getting ready for Sept. 11 against San Diego takes precedence.
“Just keep polishing and get yourself ready for the upcoming season,” Reid said. “Execution always, that becomes important as we go here.”
The team’s starters are expected to play to halftime and possibly into the third quarter. After quarterback Alex Smith exits, backups Nick Foles, Aaron Murray and possibly rookie Kevin Hogan will handle the signal calling duties. Backup Tyler Bray will not play while recuperating from a recent neck injury.
The third preseason game also marks one of the final opportunities for a players to make their mark with coaches before the first round of cuts begins. The team currently carries 88 players on the roster, and must be down to 75 players be 3 p.m. CT Tuesday.
Here are five things to watch during the game, which kicks off at noon CT.
The Chiefs secondary has questions to answer, but the good news is the team appears to have many possible solutions.
In the absence of Eric Berry, who continues his holdout, Daniel Sorensen has filled in at strong safety. But rookie Eric Murray continues receiving long looks in both practice and preseason games. The Chiefs are looking to deepen their bench at safety following the offseason losses of Husain Abdullah to retirement and Tyvon Branch via free agency.
The picture at cornerback appears even more murky. Aside from returning starter Marcus Peters, nothing appears set in stone at corner.
Steven Nelson and D.J. White have received extensive playing time in the preseason. Phillip Gaines frequently lines up opposite Peters with the first team in practice but has yet to start a game as he continues recovering from ACL surgery that ended his 2015.
Veteran Marcus Cooper plays mostly with the second team and on occasion in nickle and dime defenses with the starters. Rookie KeiVarae Russell played sparingly against the Rams. Deveron Carr has also shown flashes in practice.
Sorting out the mix in the secondary may extend into the final preseason game, and much will depend upon the timing of Berry’s return.
The Chiefs biggest area of concern after two preseason beyond doubt is run defense. The first-team defense surrendered 52 rushing yards in the first quarter against Seattle and 58 yards in the first quarter against Los Angeles.
Personnel certainly plays a role in the struggles. The Chiefs lost defensive lineman Mike DeVito via retirement and are currently without safety Eric Berry, two keys to last year’s run defense.
Reid is encouraged the team has slowed down the run as games have progressed, but wants his defense to shut down the run earlier.
“You have to start the game that way,” he explained. “They came out and got after us in the pass game right off the bat and started mixing the run in after that and you have to take care of those gaps.”
JUSTIN MARCH AND RAMIK WILSON
One of the key position battles on the starting defense is the competition among linebackers Justin March and Ramik Wilson to see who will lineup alongside Derrick Johnson.
Incumbent starter Josh Mauga continues nursing a groin injury, and that has opened the opportunity for March and Wilson. March appears to have currently have the upper hand based on snaps with the first team, but Reid said both have performed well.
“They’re still learning on the job, so there are some snaps they would like to have back, but there are some pretty good snaps there,” Reid said. “It’s good to have young guys that you feel have a chance to play and contribute.”
The timetable remains unclear for Mauga’s return, but defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is confident in his ability to return at top form.
“Josh has played a lot of plays for us here since he’s been here,” Sutton said. “He came in, was going to be a back up in 2014, and played a thousand-some snaps. We’re confident when he’s healthy and ready, we’ll get him back in there.”
Two players who played their college careers in Kansas will lineup for the Bears. Rookie Cody Whitehair from Kansas State and cornerback De’Vante Bausby from Pittsburg State should both see playing time in the game.
Whitehair (No. 65), a second-round pick for the Bears this year, is making a quick impact. He’s started each of the Bears’ first two preseason games and is listed as the team’s starting left guard after playing tackle for the Wildcats.
Bausby (No. 20) is a second-year player who initially signed with the Chiefs last year as an undrafted free agent but received his release from the team after a collarbone injury. The Bears added him to the practice squad in December, and he’s currently listed as second-team on the depth chart behind starting cornerback Kyle Fuller.
A long list of Chiefs won’t participate in Saturday’s game, led by linebacker Tamba Hali and running back Jamaal Charles. Both players have returned to practice but the team is managing their workload carefully.
In addition to Bray, other Chiefs not schedule to play include: linebackers Justin Houston (knee), Josh Mauga (groin) and Dezman Moses (glute), running back Charcandrick West (elbow) and fullback Trey Millard (knee).
The Chiefs have handled injuries with caution during the preseason, so it would not be a surprise if there are additions to the list before game time.