The Kansas City Chiefs kick off their 2011 season with a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night at 7pm CT in Kansas City. It's the first of four crucial preseason games that will hopefully help answer a few of the important questions the Chiefs have heading in to the regular season.
First, since Wallace Gilberry has come into camp a good 15 lbs heavier than he was playing at last season, will this new added bulk help him become for of a complete defensive lineman in 2011? Gilberry excelled last year in very specific situations. Mainly rushing the passer in the nickel and of his 23 tackles made last year, 7 of them were for sacks.
He found a niche on the Chiefs defense and was one of the many pleasant surprises from a surprising AFC West championship team in 2010. He was tendered after last season and signed that tender just before training camp began. The Chiefs may have found a very good nickel-rushing defensive tackle that really wants to become more of a complete player. At least that's what most fans think about Gilberrys' putting on a healthy fifteen pounds heading in to this training camp and preseason. That added weight could easily help Gilberry stack up against the run better this season, which is something Gilberry really needed to work on after last season.
If the development continues for Wallace Gilberry and others on the defensive line for the Chiefs, a once-thought weakness of the team could very easily become a strength. Wallace Gilberry's defense against the run will be one of the things that fans should be watching for during this preseason.
Next, the Chiefs need to know how close Jerrel Powe is to getting in the rotation at nose tackle for the regular season. The reports out of camp thus far have been positive for the rookie from Ole Miss. But not good enough that there is any question as to who the starter will be week one against the Buffalo Bills. Kelly Gregg was brought in to not only hold down the starting position at nose tackle for the Chiefs this season, but to mentor the young rookie and get him ready to jump into the rotation as soon as possible.
Anthony Toribio was picked up off the Green Bay Packers practice squad last year and by seasons' end was in the rotation at nose tackle. He played in just five games late in the season and recorded just five tackles in that limited time. He and Powe are battling in camp for the chance to fill in behind Gregg, and possibly get some snaps in the rotation. Last season the Chiefs had Shaun Smith and Ron Edwards who could both play nose tackle, as Shaun Smith could also play the five-technique at end as well. But now that the Chiefs are thin at nose tackle behind Gregg, it'll be Toribio or Powe that will most likely see consistent snaps behind the 34-year old Gregg. It's definitely one of the battles to watch this preseason for the Chiefs.
The next question the Chiefs need to address is how Jon Asamoah is going to handle a starting role. He isn't directly filling in for Brian Waters, because technically Ryan Lilja is filling in for Waters as he's moving from right guard over to left guard, but Asamoah coming in to play right guard is the new face on the line for the Chiefs. Most people around the team seem to be pretty comfortable with Asamoah being inserted into the starting role. That's a good sign for the Chiefs, but it's even more important that he helps continue the overall level of offensive line play that last year paved the way for the No. 1 rushing attack in the entire NFL.
It does make a difference how long the 'most-likely-to-be' starting offensive line actually plays together during these preseason games. A veteran like Casey Wiegmann will not need the same amount of reps to get ready for the season individually that a younger player would, but to gel as a starting unit maybe Wiegmann and company get a few more series together than they would have in years past.
The most obvious question for the Chiefs this preseason is how long will take take for new additions Jon Baldwin and Steve Breaston to get on the same page with Matt Cassel. There is already an established repoire between Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki, and Cassel from last season in which they found some success, well enough to send Cassel to his first Pro-Bowl. But still, wide receiver was obviously an area that the Chiefs front office and Todd Haley thought needed to be upgraded.
They took the chance on Baldwin in the first round of the draft and Steve Breaston was obviously a main target of the Chiefs in free agency as he signed a long-term deal with the team. They should get some considerable time together in the preseason games to get timing down in live-game situations. It's a speed that cannot be replicated in practice.
It's one thing to run routes over and over against the same guys in practice everyday, but it's completely different in a game situation against a player you might not have seen before. It will take some time for Baldwin, Breaston, and Cassel to get on the same page. But eventually they will figure it out and whenever that happens, it's going to be very difficult to stop this team from moving the ball. Baldwin and Breaston will be here together in Kansas City for a while now so they better get used to each other, and according to their twitter accounts, they're already getting along just fine.
The most widely speculated positional battle for the Chiefs entering the preseason was to find out who was going to be the player to step up and take over the SOLB position. With Mike Vrabel retiring, a spot opened for either Andy Studebaker, Justin Houston, or long-shot Cameron Sheffield to grab that starting spot. As it stands today, the job is Andy Studebaker's to lose.
When Andy Studebaker signed a three-year extension with the Chiefs last year it was obvious that he would be in the running for the starting SOLB position whenever it became available. Then the Chiefs went ahead and took Justin Houston in the 3rd round of the draft, a player that has experience playing in a 3/4 defense at Georgia under a predecessor of Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Houston didn't do himself any favors by holding out for a few days before signing his contract and showing up to camp late. Add into that the fact that he wasn't in great shape when he did get on the field, and you have a couple of the reasons why Andy Studebaker is the front-runner to be the starting SOLB to start the regular season.
Cameron Sheffield is a long-shot in the race to become the starter as the second-year player from Troy is coming off a season-ending injury last year. It occured in the preseason just as Sheffield's name was being thrown around as a late-round pick that was really impressing in camp and had a chance to factor in to the defense as a rookie. One year later and again he has a chance to impress people with some considerable playing time in these preseason games. Sheffield is definitely a player to keep your eye on this preseason for the Chiefs.
These are just a few of the questions the Chiefs might want to have answered during the preseason. The team will start to find some answers on Friday night when they take on the Buccaneers at Arrowhead.