KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fans watching the Kansas City Chiefs final preseason game against the Green Bay Thursday night hoping for a glimpse of Alex Smith or any of the team’s stars should scan the sidelines looking for the players without helmets.
Head coach Andy Reid anticipates using the final preseason game largely for evaluating players battling for roster spots. The Chiefs must whittle down the current 76 players on the roster, including a roster exemption for safety Eric Berry, down to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday.
He believes the final preseason game is ideal for young players to get in a game and showcase their abilities.
“Obviously you’re not going to be able to keep everybody,” Reid said. “But it gives you an opportunity as a player to get yourself on tape. And then if you don’t make it here, you have an opportunity to make it somewhere else.”
Reid followed a similar pattern each of his first three seasons in Kansas City. In 2013, Tyler Bray passed for 169 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-8 win over the Packers. Bray expects to start Thursday night, followed by Aaron Bray and rookie Kevin Hogan.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy manages the final preseason game in similar fashion. He told Packers.com this week he will continue his tradition of handing offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett play calling duties so he can focus on player evaluation and interaction.
Thursday night’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium. Here are four areas to watch during the game.
WHO DOES NOT PLAY
If you want to know who has a roster spot guaranteed and is not battling to win a job or break the starting lineup, simply watch who does not play. Few starters are unlikely to play, even potential rookie starters such as left guard Parker Ehinger or defensive lineman Chris Jones.
It’s also unlikely the three Pro Bowlers who have yet to play during the preseason will see any action. Linebacker Tamba Hali, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles all practiced this week and took first-team snaps, but the team does not feel the trio needs to get on the field before next week’s season opener against San Diego.
The consensus wisdom from coaches and players throughout training camp that this team’s depth ranks among the best in Reid’s tenure means tough roster decisions are ahead.
The Chiefs have five quarterbacks, and there is little, if any, possibility the team will carry that many active quarterbacks to start the season. The Chiefs also have significant depth at running back and wide receiver, as well as on special teams.
Media reports this week suggests quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Knile Davis may be attractive trade targets for teams searching for additional depth. Veterans with strong performances Thursday could enhance their trade value.
The front line of the Chiefs’ secondary appears set, but the competition for backup roles may be the fiercest of any position group on the team.
The Chiefs acquired cornerback Kenneth Acker from San Francisco for a future draft pick, virtually assuring him a roster spot. Draft picks Eric Murray and KeiVarae Russell seem safe bets, although Russell has had less frequent playing time in the preseason.
That leaves cornerbacks Marcus Cooper, D.J. White, Deveron Carr and Shak Randolph along with safeties Jamell Fleming and Jeron Johnson battling for spots. The possibility remains the Chiefs could keep up to 11 defensive backs.
A trip to Kansas City marks a homecoming of sorts for McCarthy. The Packers coach played tight end at Baker University in Baldwin City, and his first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Fort Hays State. He also coached on Marty Schottenheimer’s Chiefs staff, serving as offensive quality control coordinator in 1993-94 and quarterbacks coach for the 1995-98 seasons.
Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a consensus All-American at Kansas State, is not expected to play Thursday. Nelson continues recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered Aug. 23, 2015. He returned to practice for the first time last week.