The teams that owned the top two pick’s in April’s NFL Draft will face off Sunday afternoon when the Kansas City Chiefs visit the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel won’t be going up against each other, but both teams are trying to show they won’t be repeating their disastrous 2012.
For the Chiefs we will finally get to see just what new head coach Andy Reid has in store for an offense that never really got rolling in the preseason. We’ll also see if the defense, under new coordinator Bob Sutton, can turn the unit with four returning Pro Bowl players can be elevated to an elite level.
Welcoming the Chiefs is a team also dealing with a new regime lead by Gus Bradley.
The Jacksonville offense might not be a huge secret, but there’s no telling if starting QB Blaine Gabbert can finally prove to be worth a top 10 pick in the draft, or if he’ll play at all. The former Missouri star is hampered by a fracture in his thumb.
No matter who ends up under center for the Jaguars — Gabbert or Chad Henne — it will be veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew that will be the man that needs to be stopped. He struggled last season with only 414 yards on 86 carries, but he’s only 28 years old and is a season removed from leading the league in rushing.
It’s never smart to get too high or too low after one game, but Reid and the Chiefs know how important it is to get a win as they try to erase the miserable Scott Pioli era. If Kansas City can’t go into Jacksonville and get a victory, there will be a lot of fans wondering if the optimism around this team throughout the offseason was way off base.
For the Chiefs to get out of the gate fast with a win against the Jaguars, here are the three players that will need to put their stamp on the game.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
Everyone knows how good the NFL’s all-time yards per carry running back is, but could he be better in Reid’s offense? The preseason didn’t give us any indication as the Chiefs passed the ball more than anyone in the league and Charles was used in very small doses.
Working with a real quarterback for the first time in his career should immediately make things a whole lot easier for Charles. And as the Kansas City receivers behind Dwayne Bowe work the kinks out, it will be Charles that will need to make sure the offense doesn’t stall.
Sure, Alex Smith needs to be worthy of the haul GM John Dorsey traded to San Francisco to get him to Kansas City, but the success of this offense starts and ends with the electric running back.
Defense: Eric Berry
Which version of Berry will we get: The guy that showed game-by-game improvement as a rookie in 2011 that had him on the path to becoming one of the best safeties in the league or the guy last year that battled inconsistencies as he recovered from a major knee injury?
There’s no doubt Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will continue to terrorize quarterbacks and Derrick Johnson will handle his business in the middle. But the Chiefs defense will their secondary to take a huge step forward and Berry is the captain of that ship.
If the Jaguars offense gets to see the best of Berry, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will be able to unleash his attacking scheme without worrying too much about surrendering big plays.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
No Chiefs player was more consistent than Colquitt last season. He averaged a career-best 46.8 yard average and tied a personal best with a 40.8 yard net. The lefty also set a franchise single-season record for punts inside the 20 with 45.
Colquitt was so good, he was rewarded with a five-year, $18.75 million deal. It also assured he would be the rare Kansas City player to suit up for Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel and Reid.
Now Colquitt might even be more dangerous under the tutelage of special teams coordinator Dave Toub. As impressive as his numbers were in 2012, the coverage units were usually good for letting him down at least once a game.
Much like Charles, it will be fun to see just how good Colquitt can be with a good support system.