The Kansas City Chiefs made their fans a public promise in the beginning of the 2012 offseason. They said they were going to make the team more competitive at multiple positions, but the front office specifically mentioned the quarterback position as one of note. Matt Cassel, in short, was given notice that he was on a short leash.
Immediately Chiefs Nation believed that the team would sign a free agent to compete with Cassel for the starting spot. After going down for the second half of 2011, life without Cassel was a mess at first for the team. Tyler Palko started four disastrous games for the Chiefs that likely cost them their second division title in a row and Todd Haley’s job. Cassel was already having a poor season, but at least he was light year’s better than the next guy on the roster.
Enter Kyle Orton. Orton was signed after being claimed on waivers from the Denver Broncos and he ended up winning two of the last three games for the Chiefs, including one at Denver to close the season and a major win over the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers. It gave Romeo Crennel a permanent title instead of an interim one, but it also gave Chiefs fans hopes that Orton could be the new guy.
Alas that was not to be, not when the Dallas Cowboys come calling with $5 million per year for a back-up slot. Chad Henne was quickly snatched up by the Jags, as was Jason Campbell by the Bears. The already-slim quarterback market was suddenly gone since the Chiefs were never real players for Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn (despite their wishes to the contrary with Peyton).
Instead the team upgraded at several other spots and threw in a low-key signing of Brady Quinn in the mix alongside Eric Winston and Peyton Hillis The 2012 NFL Draft also came and went and not a single quarterback was taken or even brought in after the fact. A short-lived rookie mini-camp with former Hampton quarterback David Legree was the only sign of anyone knew under center for the Chiefs besides Quinn.
But the Chiefs depth chart is not only Cassel and Quinn. They might occupy the top two spots, but RIcky Stanzi is still sitting there, as fresh as he was on draft day in 2011 when he was announced as the team’s fifth round choice. He never got a snap last season despite the fact that a fan contest could have found a better candidate than Palko. Haley was handcuffed, for whatever reason, to Palko and he lost his job because of it. Orton came in too soon for the team to turn to Stanzi.
The phrase "next man up" exists in NFL circles because the thought is that, as a player, you’re only an injury away from having your chance in the spotlight. Quarterbacks, like anyone else, have to be ready to play at a moment’s notice. Except that rule did not apply for Stanzi. Somehow he was glossed over for a strange back-up an then a free agent signing.
Surprisingly the Chiefs know just a slight touch more about Stanzi now as they did a year ago when they signed him. The NFL lockout cost him significant time with coaches and the playbook, and Haley’s stubbornness took care of the rest. He is the mystery on the team and perhaps he’s the answer to what the team promised in the first place .
The Chiefs are now finally making their move in recent OTAs, allowing Stanzi to get reps in camp to see what he can do. And it looks like the move is paying off.
"I think the reps aren’t really a huge deal right now," said Stanzi about taking snaps with the second unit. "We’re switching on and off with the twos and the threes. The way the reps are cut up, it just happened to fall that way. You can talk about it a lot but it’s nice to actually go out there and rep it out and see some different situations come up and different plays that can be called. You can learn a lot by putting it on tape."
Stanzi might downplay his reps with the second team, but it’s the kind of practice that the team needs to see. Scott Pioli is quoted by Michael Holley in the book War Room as asking certain questions of each new acquisition in the NFL Draft: who will this player replace on our current roster? Perhaps that was asked of several players this year only to realize that no one graded out high enough to not give Stanzi a chance.
Josh Looney writes in today’s OTAs notebook at the Chiefs official site, "The Chiefs have yet to declare a primary backup to starter Matt Cassel and the handling of backup quarterbacks during OTAs suggest the team wants a training camp competition."
The Chiefs already stated they wanted a competition at quarterback and apparently things did not work personnel wise to put any real pressure on the number one spot. However, that doesn’t mean that Stanzi will not get the chance to impress and don the No. 2 position on the depth chart. While it’s likely a pipe dream that Stanzi could supplant Cassel anytime soon, if he can strengthen the overall position in 2012, it’s a step forward.