Don’t look now, but NFL football is back! The Kansas City Chiefs travel to Atlanta tomorrow night to kick off the preseason against the Falcons. Can the Chiefs draft class impress in their first game? Will Tony Gonzalez play more than a few snaps against his former team?
Here are three players (Offense, Defense and Special Teams) from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Matt Cassel
Last season Cassel got off to a slow start in the preseason, was hurt in the all-important third exhibition and we never saw a whole lot of consistency from the Chiefs signal caller throughout the season.
Going out and having a good couple of series in the second week of August doesn’t guarantee success next month and beyond but it would be a great starting point.
Defense: Derrick Johnson
I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but DJ is in a training camp battle right now with Demorrio Williams for the right to start at inside linebacker. I know, shocking news. Todd Haley is already sick of hearing the DJ/Demorrio questions but really until Johnson is starting or on another team I don’t see them going away.
Like Cassel, DJ’s season won’t be defined this weekend, instead he has a chance to secure a few more reps with the first team defense during next week’s practices.
Special Teams: Dexter McCluster
The Chiefs drafted McCluster and Javier Arenas to not only help on offense and defense, respectively, but also cure the long suffering return game. Arenas was one of the best punt returners ever to play in the SEC and doesn’t have nearly as much to prove when it comes to special team. McCluster on the other hand, has shown amazing ability in the open field during training camp, but will need to prove he can take to punt and/or kick returns.
We all know he has the moves, now he just needs to show us the instincts.
Offense: Kerry Meier
Not the former Kansas City area player you were expecting?
Following a shoulder injury to Michael Jenkins, the spotlight has swung around to a group of young receivers led by the former KU QB-turned-WR Meier. Even coming off an amazing career at Kansas, I don’t know that anyone expected Meier to have a chance to contribute immediately after the Falcons drafted him in the fifth-round of April’s draft, but that’s exactly where he finds himself going into Friday’s game.
It doesn’t hurt matters that one of his main competitors for playing time — Harry Douglas — will likely be on the sidelines as he continue to rehab a knee injury from last season.
Defense: Sean Weatherspoon
Another local college product will be on the field for the Falcons, except Weatherspoon already knows he will be running with the first team. Like Meier, Weatherspoon’s opportunity is due to an injury after starter Mike Peterson hurt his calf.
With Peterson having just turned 34, a good start by the former Mizzou star just might put him on the fast track to being the starting weakside linebacker for Atlanta this season.
Special Teams: Eric Weems
You can add Weems to the list of players the Falcons will look to help fill the void left by the Jenkins injury. More importantly for Weems, though, is his continued improvement in the return game. He became the primary kick and punt returner last season for Atlanta following Douglas’ trip to IR and he will be looking to hold onto that job for 2010.