The Kansas City Chiefs look to finally win a preseason game when they head to Tampa Bay to take on the Bucs. After a lackluster performance last weekend in Atlanta, can Todd Haley’s Chiefs bounce back and show they are almost ready for the regular season? Will the similarly rebuilding Bucs find a groove for their young offense?
Here are three players (Offense, Defense and Special Teams) from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Tony Moeaki
The rookie tight end has impressed every time he has been on the field during OTAs and training camp. His problem, like it was in college, has been staying healthy enough to show off his talents. Last week he wasn’t able to take the trip with the team to Atlanta, but is now primed to make his professional debut.
While veteran Leonard Pope is the odds on favorite to remain the starter through kickoff of Monday Night Football the first week of the season, Moeaki could apply plenty of pressure if he can translate some of that practice magic to the games.
Defense: Andy Studebaker
He might not be fighting for a roster spot, but that doesn’t mean Studebaker doesn’t have plenty to prove right now. Everyone you hear talking about him during camp — Romeo Crennel, Todd Haley, Mike Vrabel — has done nothing but lavish praise on the young linebacker. That’s not to say it isn’t all deserved, but Studebaker will need to prove it while running with the first team the way he did last week after Vrabel’s short stay in the game.
As his solid play continues, he becomes a much bigger part of the “process” that Haley and Scott Pioli are always talking about.
Special Teams: Ryan Succop
Blame it on the Kicker That Shall Remain Nameless, but I was a little uneasy after Succop missed those two field goals against the Falcons. Forget that they were both from beyond 50 yards. After the rookie season he put together there is no reason one preseason game should spook anyone. Yet there I was, scratching my head when Succop put a 53 yarder off the upright.
Succop will be fine… I know that. But it would make me — and the other paranoid fans out there waiting for the clock to strike midnight on this kid — feel a lot better if Succop went out there and knocked down a couple field goals from 45 yards.
Offense: Kareem Huggins
The Chiefs had trouble out of the gate last week stopping the run and will get plenty of chances to redeem themselves in Tampa Bay. Not only will starter Cadillac Williams get carries early on, but so will the upstart Huggins. Last week he reeled off 55 yards on just 8 carries playing behind (and against) second and third string linemen.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris thinks that Huggins can be even better playing with the first-team and he’ll get that chance against the Chiefs. With backup Derrick Ward coming off a disappointing first season in Tampa, Huggins could put himself in position to take his job.
Defense: Aqib Talib
Here is a name that Jayhawk fans will recognize. But if you believe the buzz coming from Tampa, you won’t recognize the guy you see on the field wearing his jersey.
Even though Talib has been solid his first couple of seasons in the league — he started all 15 games he appeared in last year — it has been overshadowed by his off-the-field issues. From everyone I’ve heard from in Florida this week, Talib has his head on straight and could be poised to take a major step forward.
If he wants to impress in his 2010 debut — an injury kept him out last week — Talib will have to do it against a Chiefs offense dying to finally get off the ground.
Special Teams: Clifton Smith
Want to hear a Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro player tell you he has work to do before making the team? Go down to Tampa Bay, because that’s exactly what return man extraordinaire Clifton Smith was saying earlier this week. Due to the emergence of Huggins in the backfield, Smith could find himself fourth on the depth chart at running back and tightening up the roster.
He’s probably just trying to pump himself up. No team is going to cut a guy coming off a season in which he led the league in kick return average, but either way he is going to be fired up Saturday night. The Chiefs coverage units had plenty of hiccups last year and will have quite the test on their hands with Smith.