Coming off a 17-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints last week, the Chiefs look to bounce back against the defending NFC champions. While the results hold no significance in the win-loss column, Kansas City has plenty to work on in advance of the regular season.
Whether it is refining a few plays or players trying to make a name for themselves, the Chiefs must seize all opportunities to ensure this season is as contrasting to their 2012 campaign as possible.
Here are five players to watch this week against San Francisco:
Not only will Alex Smith be making his home debut for the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday night, but he will also be doing so against his former team.
After playing just one series in the preseason opener against the Saints, the former No. 1 overall pick should see a nominal boost in his time on the field against the 49ers. Smith looked comfortable in the pocket on his way to completing seven of his eight passes for 68 yards. Kansas City was able to score on its opening drive with Jamaal Charles punching it in from the one-yard line.
While he spent the last eight seasons practicing with some of the guys he will line up against on Friday, the 49ers will present a much sterner test this time around for Smith. Going through drills against one of the best defenses in the league does not compare to playing an actual game, even if just the preseason.
Look for Smith's ability to control the pocket and not become flustered with the pressure San Francisco is sure to provide. If the quarterback is able to direct his offense much like last week's effort, it will be another step toward shaking any questions about his play without Jim Harbaugh by his side. If he struggles, however, the window to prepare for Week 1's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars will appear much tighter.
Most shuddered when the Chiefs took Dontari Poe in the first round last year, but what a difference one season can make.
Reid was asked on a local sports talk show earlier this week if Poe has what it takes to be a great player in this league. His answer:
"I thought this before I came to Kansas City, and I feel it even more so now that I would answer your question yes…"
More on Poe from Reid:
"He's a very large man. He's got phenomenal endurance. He's stronger than probably anybody on our team. He's very, very athletic and [earlier this week] he actually had an interception where he actually dove for a tipped ball and scooped it off the ground. I mean, it was unbelievable to watch that. He loves to play the game. He has a really good coach in Tommie Frazier, who really respects the kid's athletic ability and natural talent. They're working on some things, the combinations in his rush game. When you run a 3-4 defense, that guy in the middle, that's kinda where you build everything off of, that nose guard. If he can plug up the middle, good things normally happy and he's able to do that."
The high praise from the new coaching staff is just the beginning for Poe as he tries to live up to the lofty draft status. His play will largely determine just how good the Chiefs can be on defense, as his role will facilitate what the others around him are able to do.
Much of what the 49ers try to accomplish on offense derives from their ability to dictate the movement of the pocket, making Poe's presence all the more important for Kansas City.
The worst possible news for the Kansas City Chiefs emerged Monday morning, as star running back Jamaal Charles injured his foot during practice. The frenzy surrounding the severity of the injury has slowed, but the team has played it safe by holding him out of practice the last few days -- meaning that it is likely Charles does not suit up Friday night against the 49ers.
While this does not necessarily bode well for Kansas City's first unit capitalizing on every opportunity to jell on offense, it gives others the chance to prove their worth in case something similar happens in the regular season. Rookie running back Knile Davis is second on the depth chart, ahead of Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray, and has received the bulk of first-team reps at practice.
Davis tied Charles for the most carries in last week's loss to the Saints, rushing the ball five times for just seven yards. The running back did lead the team with four receptions out of the backfield, showing the kind of versatility Andy Reid covets.
San Francisco provides a much tougher test this week, but Davis will need to be up for the challenge to maintain his supposed grip behind Charles on the depth chart.
One of the Chiefs' biggest needs this offseason was to find a viable starter in their 3-4 defense opposite of Derrick Johnson at middle linebacker. Currently listed behind Akeem Jordan for the starting job, rookie Nico Johnson is making an impression on the coaching staff early in his career.
He has a strong group of linebackers to lean on, including Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston -- all Pro-Bowlers from a year ago. From how they practice to in-game performance, Nico Johnson's ability to absorb everything now will pay dividends for both his future in the league and a Kansas City defense looking to make a huge jump in the rankings this season.
Johnson will get plenty of reps Friday night against a 49ers team that comes right at its opponents. With playmakers all over the field for Kansas City, his job is simple: locate and corral the ball-carrier -- which is not much different than his days with Alabama playing in the SEC.
Jordan does not appear to have a lock on his top billing on the depth chart. It could be only a matter of time before Johnson becomes the starter, with this week's game another step toward that becoming a reality.
Being the first player taken at the NFL draft comes with certain expectations and inherent pressures unlike any other sport. Just because Eric Fisher will play right tackle for the Chiefs this season doesn't mean the demands will be any less, however.
Fisher is nicked up right now, suffering from both a thumb and a shoulder injury. While neither seems serious at the moment, he missed some practice time earlier this week but is back at it now.
NFL rookies must make the most of every opportunity in preparing for the rigors of professional football; missing any time, even if just a practice here or there, is crucial.
The 49ers pressure the opposing quarterback as good as any team in the league, with Aldon Smith headlining an aggressive group. San Francisco comes at you from all angles, so look for solid footwork out of Fisher to mitigate being beaten often on the edge.
Jeremy Sickel has successfully created and operated numerous websites. HIs work can be read on Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, and he has also appeared on various podcasts and sports talk shows around the country.
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