KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Saturday offers the first chance to evaluate the 2015 roster in game-type situations as the Chiefs kick off the preseason with a road game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Most eyes will fall rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, the team’s first-round pick, or wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who signed a five-year, $55-million free-agent deal in March.
Starters, however, aren’t expected to play beyond the first quarter, meaning the spotlight shifts to backup players battling for a roster spot or extended playing time during the regular season.
Here are five to monitor:
• Running back Charcandrick West (35): The Abilene Christian alumnus joined the Chiefs in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. West found time on the roster when Cyrus Gray suffered an ACL injury in Week 10 of the 2014 season.
The second-year pro took full advantage of offseason reps while Gray was recovering, showcasing vision, ability to catch out of the backfield, and explosiveness as a runner. With Gray no longer on the team, West has continued to improve during training camp and improved his pass-protection sets. West needs to have a strong showing to lock in the third roster spot at running back.
• Wide receiver Da’Ron Brown (4): The 2015 seventh-round pick out of Northern Illinois has been flying under the radar. Most of the headlines have been going to third-round pick Chris Conley, but Brown has a chance to take his place as the sixth wide receiver.
Brown is a savvy route runner who consistently beats tough press coverage from defensive back Sanders Commings during training camp. He has gotten clean releases and showed a route-running skill set not typical for a rookie receiver. Brown possesses a good catch radius, looking the ball in and catches away from his body. The 6-0, 199-pound Brown compares similarly to a young Jason Avant.
• Offensive tackle Jarrod Pughsley (60): The 6-4, 310-pound Pughsley, who spent part of the 2014 season on the Chiefs practice squad, has shined during training camp. Pughsley has good pass protection sets, doesn’t take false steps in the run game or overextends himself, and keeps his hands up ready to punch.
Pughsley had quality training camp battles with defensive linemen Allen Bailey, Tamba Hali and Mike Catapano during team drills and one-on-one drills, including putting Catapano in the dirt during a 9-on-7 run drill on a reach block. The Lima, Ohio, native has a great opportunity to earn himself a roster spot over the next four games.
• Defensive end David Irving (74): The former Iowa State Cyclone missed the 2014 season after he was dismissed from the team, but the time away hasn’t affected his skills. The 6-7, 272-pound Irving shined during his Pro Day workout in March, posting a 4.84 40-yard dash and 1.69 on his 10-yard split.
The undrafted rookie stood out at spring practices with his 87 ¾-inch wingspan. Irving has the long arms and height to block a field goal, but looks very lean for his size. The San Jacinto, Calif., native showcased his pass rushing skills once the pads came on in training camp with some of the quickest counter moves in camp. He was able to set up offensive linemen defenders out wide and utilize his spin move with a swim to get by them. Irving shows power strength for his size and a skill set worth developing on the 53-man roster. The preseason games can help solidify his spot in this roster.
• Inside linebacker Justin March (59): The 6-0, 222-pound March joined the Chiefs in May as an undrafted free agent out of Akron and initially looked undersized. That concern quickly disappeared during spring practices as March consistently made plays in coverage, and then turned it on once the pads came on in training camp.
March has had multiple deflections in pass coverage and an impressive diving interception during 7-on-7 drills. He also had a head-turning run stuff during red zone work on third-and-goal during 11-on-11 drills. March is a high-effort linebacker who more times than not finds himself in position to make a play on the football. March will need to have a strong showing on special teams during the preseason, but he will likely flash at some point during the games.
[Editor’s Note: Article updated to include jersey number next to player’s name.]