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Team Report - KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

The Kansas City Chiefs head into the final week of the preseason in a state of flux that has head coach Andy Reid and his coaching staff scrambling to find some stability.

There's nothing unique in the Chiefs' situation heading into September, but it's not at all the scenario that Reid expected to begin his second year in Kansas City. But injuries, suspensions and poor performances have left the Chiefs with more question marks before the regular-season opener than they carried going into training camp a month ago.

The offensive line, secondary, wide receiver, middle linebacker, kicker are all spots where decisions remain to be made to start the season. All of those question marks were visible in the Chiefs' 30-12 loss to Minnesota.

An already shaky group of blockers was rocked last week by the four-game suspension handed down to starting right tackle Donald Stephenson. His absence reverberated through the entire offensive line, as Reid moved starting left guard Jeff Allen to right tackle. Replacing Allen at left guard has been the duo of Jeff Linkenbach and Ricky Henry.

Those changes combined with a pair of youngsters that have struggled - left tackle Eric Fisher and right guard Zach Fulton - and the lack of preseason point production from the No. 1 offense is understandable.

"We had 42 plays in the first half as opposed to 24 for (Minnesota) and didn't take advantage of having the ball in the red zone," Reid said of his No. 1 offense that in 16 possessions has not scored a touchdown. "We've got to fix that."

Against the Vikings, the offense was without running back Jamaal Charles (foot) and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (quad). Reid already knows he'll be without Bowe for the opener against Tennessee since his receiver will be serving a one-game NFL suspension. Just who will step into the starting lineup with Donnie Avery remains to be decided, but it may be Frankie Hammond, a first-year receiver out of the University of Florida.

In the secondary, it's easier to name the defensive back that will play the slot coverage spot in the nickel and dime defenses than it is to name the starters at cornerback. The slot man will be Chris Owens, who spent last year with the Browns and Dolphins. Marcus Cooper, Sean Smith and Ron Parker are sharing the left and right corner spots with the No. 1 defense and all three are having trouble adjusting to the NFL's officiating emphasis on downfield contact between defensive backs and receivers. Plus, strong safety Eric Berry has been a non-factor in August as he deals with a heel injury.

A torn tendon in a wrist has shelved middle linebacker Joe Mays and he may not make it back this season. That's left second-year man Nico Johnson, along with outside linebacker-turned middle linebacker Frank Zombo playing next to Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson. Through two games, Mays had been doing a good job against the run and contributed a pair of sacks.

The competition at kicker remains intense as incumbent Ryan Succop tries to fight off rookie Cairo Santos. It would not be a surprise to see general manager John Dorsey deal one of them before the start of the regular season.

NOTES, QUOTES

--It's one thing for an offensive lineman to play guard in practice and occasionally get thrown into another position in search of what coaches call versatility. It's quite another when game-time comes and a left guard finds himself starting at right tackle. That's Jeff Allen's story with the Chiefs right now. With the regular-season opener coming closer, Allen finds himself learning a new position. The coaching staff has moved the third-year blocker from left guard to right tackle to replace Donald Stephenson, who will miss the first four games under an NFL suspension.

"I'm confident in my ability to play right tackle," said Allen, the Chiefs second-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. "It's not foreign to me since I played there in college, but it is an adjustment."

At the University of Illinois, Allen opened 47 games at left and right tackle, with most of those starts coming on the left side for the Illini. Since joining the Chiefs he's played left guard, making the switch about as tough as possible among that blocking group. Allen is moving from left to the right side, and he moved from playing inside with help on both sides, to playing on the edge where he's often on an island.

"I'm going to do everything in my ability to prepare and if I'm needed at right tackle during the season, that's what I'll do," said Allen.

--A year ago, Jaye Howard was working hard to earn a spot on the 53-man roster in Seattle with the Seahawks. The 6-3, 301-pound product out of the University of Florida didn't survive in the northwest and was part of the cut to 53 players. But Howard was not out of work long; he was claimed on waivers by the Chiefs and spent the entire season on the active roster, although he saw very little playing time.

Fast forward 12 months and Howard was making things happen for the Chiefs defense in preseason game No. 3. He sacked Matt Cassel in the end zone and punched the ball out of the Minnesota quarterback's hands, and the fumble went out of the end zone for a K.C. safety. It's the type of big play that Howard has shown is possible now that he knows the Chiefs defense.

"Coming in last year was a complete change for me, not only with the team but the type of defense," said Howard. "What they were doing here is completely different at my spot than what Seattle did. By the time I felt comfortable, it was the second half of the season and my chances to play didn't happen."

The snaps are happening now as Howard pushes for playing time at both left and right defensive end and he will also be the No. 2 nose tackle behind starter Dontari Poe. "I've learned a lot since I've been here and I'm prepared to do what's necessary," Howard said. "When I get my chances, I have to produce."

--Joe McKnight started training camp in late July on the sidelines due to arthroscopic surgery on his knee in June. It was certainly not the best way for the running back-returner to attempt an NFL comeback.

But day-by-day he's gotten more opportunities in the offense and kicking game and McKnight is making a late push for a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

"You go back and look at his tape when he was with New York and they used him in and out of the backfield," said Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. "He's a tremendous route runner and he's got soft hands, much like Jamaal (Charles.) Once you put a guy like that in space you never know what can happen."

After he was released by the Jets a year ago, McKnight did not play in the league during the 2013 regular season. Several off-field incidents and questions about his attitude left his phone very quiet. "It really hurt," McKnight said. "I couldn't watch football. On Sundays I would just go work out all day."

The Chiefs did a lot of leg work in the offseason on McKnight and came to the decision signing him was worth the effort.

"You go back and look at his tape when he was with New York and they used him in and out of the backfield," said Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. "He's a tremendous route runner and he's got soft hands, much like Jamaal (Charles.) Once you put a guy like that in space you never know what can happen."

In 39 games with the New York Jets over three seasons (2010-12), McKnight averaged 75 all-purpose yards per game, racking up 2,953 yards as a runner, receiver and returner. Despite the on-field production, he was released a year ago by the Jets after a series of off-field incidents and questions about his attitude when he failed two conditioning tests. He ended up not playing in the 2013 regular season as his phone remained silent. "It really hurt," McKnight said. "I couldn't watch football. On Sundays I would just go workout all day."

The Chiefs did a lot of leg work on McKnight in the offseason and came to the decision signing him was worth the effort. He appeared a roster lock in June, but the surgery has left him behind Cyrus Gray in the fight for the No. 3 running back spot. "I wanted an opportunity and they've given me a chance," McKnight said. "I'm not sure how it all falls together, but I think I've shown there's still gas in my tank."

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The starter at middle linebacker was not in question two weeks ago for the Chiefs. The job belonged to journeyman Joe Mays until he suffered a torn tendon in his wrist during the second preseason game. Surgery came a few days later and while a prognosis has not been made public, head coach Andy Reid said Mays will be out "for a while."

That opens the doors for three players on the Chiefs defensive roster to earn starts and playing time: Josh Mauga, Nico Johnson and Frank Zombo. Any one of the three could be starting next to Derrick Johnson on the first snap of the opener against Tennessee. Mauga was signed after training camp started; he was on the street after being released by the New York Jets. Johnson was the Chiefs fourth-round choice in the 2013 NFL Draft. Zombo has spent his NFL career at outside linebacker for the Packers and Chiefs.

Right now the edge appears to belong to Mauga because of his familiarity with coordinator Bob Sutton's scheme that he first learned when both men were with the Jets.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Guard Matt McGlynn signed with the Chiefs two days after he was released by the Washington Redskins. McGlynn, who has 48 career starts in five seasons, rejoins offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach, who also played for the Indianapolis Colts last season.

McGlynn played for head coach Andy Reid for three seasons. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted McGlynn in the fourth round in 2008.

To make room for McGlynn on the roster, center Ben Gottschalk was released.

PLAYER NOTES

--OLB Tamba Hali will join the rest of the Chiefs starters on the sideline for Thursday night's final preseason game. Hali would have been held out of the game anyway as his right knee was swollen after Monday's practice. The Chiefs do not think the knee will be a problem that keeps Hali out of the regular-season opener.

--QB Chase Daniel will start against Green Bay in the Chiefs' final preseason game on Thursday night. Head coach Andy Reid said Daniel will play the first quarter, replacing starter Alex Smith who joins the rest of the starting lineup on the bench for the game against the Packers.

--RB Jamaal Charles will not play on Thursday night against Green Bay, but said he'll be ready for the regular-season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 7. Charles is coming off a bruised foot that he suffered while moving his belongings out of the players' dorm at the conclusion of training camp. "I feel really good and I'm just trying to focus on week No. 1," Charles said. He had just five touches in the preseason.

--WR Mark Harrison became ill at Monday's practice and it's unlikely he'll be able to play Thursday night when the Chiefs finish the preseason with a game in Green Bay. Harrison was taken off the field by a cart halfway through the workout that was held in hot and very humid conditions. Harrison was making a late push for a spot on the Chiefs' 53-man roster.

--WR Dwayne Bowe will not play against Green Bay because of a quadriceps injury. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said Bowe is making progress on his rehab. Bowe will not be able to practice or play until Sept. 8 as he serves a one-game NFL suspension.

--RT Donald Stephenson will begin serving a four-game NFL suspension for violating the performance enhancing drug policy on Aug. 30, two days after the Chiefs finish up the preseason and the day of the league-wide roster cutdown to 53 players. Stephenson cannot return to the practice field with the team until Sept. 30.

--QB Tyler Bray got his most extensive playing time of the preseason against Minnesota, as he directed the Chiefs' offense for five possessions in the second half. Although he started poorly, missing on his first seven throws, he eventually led the only touchdown drive of the game for Kansas City. Bray was seven-for-seven in that possession.

--MLB Joe Mays underwent surgery last week on a torn wrist tendon and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid indicated he could be out for some time. Mays suffered the injury in the first half of the August 17 game against Carolina. Until then, Mays had been having a good preseason, even contributing two sacks.

--WR Junior Hemingway continues to be injury-plagued as he missed preseason game No. 3 with a hip injury. Combined with an earlier strained hamstring, Hemingway has spent more time in the trainer's room than he has on the field.

--TE Anthony Fasano missed half of the 2013 season with two different injuries and his absence hurt the Chiefs' offense. Fasano is back and healthy and along with second-year TE Travis Kelce, they have been the most productive receivers on the roster. Kelce has 10 catches for 185 yards and Fasano has seven catches for 70 yards.

--LG Jeff Allen appears to be the replacement for suspended right tackle Donald Stephenson. Throughout training camp, Allen got snaps working at both left and right tackle. But with Stephenson gone for the first four games, it appears Allen will be his replacement. At the University of Illinois, Allen started 47 games, all of them at left or right tackle.

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