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Governor's Cup Take Five: Chiefs vs. Rams

Posted Aug 26, 2011

Five things to watch in tonight's preseason tilt between the Chiefs and Rams

St. Louis makes an intrastate visit to Kansas City for the annual Governor’s Cup matchup between the Chiefs and Rams Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Historically a battle for Missouri bragging rights, this year’s game is about much more than football.

The entire evening will be dedicated to assisting the people of Joplin, MO in their recovery and rebuilding efforts from tornado devastation as well as recognizing the many volunteers who have helped ensure the spirit of the Joplin community continues to shine.

If you’re coming to the game, think of the difference football fans can make if every person who steps through the turnstile donates just $1 to Joplin relief efforts. There will be donation stations benefitting the Joplin Recovery Fund and the Joplin Relief Fund at each gate when entering Arrowhead.

If you’re not able to attend the game, but would still like to help the people of Joplin, fans can make donations by visiting the Chiefs Facebook page HERE.

This year’s Governor’s Cup serves as a platform to highlight the progress in Joplin and the needs of that city moving forward. It’s the focus of everything surrounding tonight’s game, but here are five things to pay attention to when watching the action unfold between the white lines.

Governor’s Cup Take Five

1)      Revisiting The Core Four

With tight position battles in the reserve ranks at safety, wide receiver and linebacker, it’s time to re-visit our focus on the Core Four special teams performers. These are the guys who are able to play on the four primary special teams units – kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return.

“I do think that as you get in to some of those fourth safety, sixth linebacker, fourth receiver, fifth receiver – special teams might play a big role in it,” Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley said earlier this week.

Last year’s most active special teamers were LB Cory Greenwood, RB Jackie Battle, WR Terrance Copper, OLB Andy Studebaker, LB Demorrio Williams and DB Donald Washington – all reserve players at their respective positions.

“If you’re not a starter, you have to be able to play special teams,” Copper said. “That’s just something I took to at an early age and thank God they’ve kept me around for a little bit.”

Our last check of Core Four players came against Tampa Bay when three players ran with the first unit on all four special teams. Those three players were S Reshard Langford, LB Justin Cole and OLB Cameron Sheffield. Greenwood, Washington and TE Jake O’Connell each appeared on three first-team units.

What will the Core Four look like against St. Louis?

2)      Aftermath Of Siler’s Injury

I’ve read and heard a few takes that Brandon Siler’s season-ending injury shouldn’t hamper the Chiefs defense all that much in 2011. That’s an opinion I couldn’t disagree with more.

With Siler, the Chiefs found a player that the defense didn’t have in 2010 – a crossover inside linebacker. Kansas City’s two-deep never shifted from their respective positions on the strong and weak sides. Jovan Belcher and Corey Mays played “Mike” while Derrick Johnson and Demorrio Williams played “Will.”

Williams is now the only backup at middle linebacker with any extensive NFL experience, but he’s only played on the weak side with the Chiefs. Siler had been working next to Williams on the strong side throughout camp.

“That inside strong linebacker is taking on big bodies much of the time and has to be much more of a downhill player,” Haley explained last preseason after being asked why Williams and Johnson were never paired together. “(Derrick and Demorrio) are not the image that you, as a coach, have in your head as an inside strong-side backer in the 3-4. It’s no issue with them; it’s that you need a little bigger body to hold up to the pounding.”

In Wednesday’s night practice, Justin Cole took the second-team reps at “Mike” alongside Williams. Cole is a player who the Chiefs were obviously high on last season as he made the team out of training camp as a rookie free agent; but is he ready to be in the two deep?

Last year, Cole was inactive for the first 11 games before being released and joining the practice squad. How will the Chiefs treat the backup position behind Belcher on Friday night?

3)      Speaking Of Linebackers

Let’s shift our focus to the outside linebacker position and its depleting amount of depth heading into the third preseason game. In Wednesday’s practice, just four outside linebackers were active – Tamba Hali, Andy Studebaker, Justin Houston and Cameron Sheffield.

Out for the Chiefs were Pierre Walters, Eric Bahktiari and Gabe Miller.

We’re likely to get a long look at Houston and Sheffield if the Chiefs play with just four outside linebackers – which might not be a bad thing. Both Sheffield and Houston are coming of very good performances in Baltimore and could make a statement with follow-up performances against the Rams.

4)      Offensive Pickup

The offense has struggled to muster much firepower this preseason. It’s something Haley has credited to a lack of scheming and a focus on fundamentals.

Last week in Baltimore, Matt Cassel completed just six of 14 passes while primary ball carriers Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined to average only 3.0 yards per carry. The only first-team score came via a 31-yard field goal after the Chiefs recovered a muffed punt in the Ravens’ red zone.

“I think that’s just the way that it is, so I want to be fair to those guys,” Haley said. “We’re working fundamentals and we’re working base offense, bread and butter stuff – runs, pass, play-action. But, the offense is making progress.”

Granted, last week’s game in Baltimore was also the first preseason action for most of Kansas City’s front-line players. Starters are expected to see significant snaps against the Rams, while Chiefs fans are waiting to see a preview of good things to come.

5)      Any UDFAs on the 53?

Will an undrafted free agent make this year’s 53-man roster? History says yes, but the lack of an offseason has made an uphill climb for rookie underdogs even steeper this season.

Jeremy Horne, Cory Greenwood and Justin Cole beat the odds in last year’s final cuts. Verran Tucker made an impact after starting the year on the practice squad.

In Todd Haley’s first season, Jovan Belcher and Pierre Walters were able to conquer the undrafted wall. Two years later, Belcher is slated to enter his second season as a starter.

Out of this year’s bunch, Butch Lewis has shown versatility on the line and has even received first-team reps at tackle because of injury. CB Demond Washington has shown promise on special teams. T David Mims received some fan interest in St. Joseph, as did DE Brandon Bair.

Time is ticking with just two games remaining. There are plenty of undrafted rookies still hoping to impress. Will any of them take a stand Friday night?

 

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