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Rookie QB Ricky Stanzi readies for new role

Posted Nov 16, 2011

Stanzi is set to join the active gameday roster for the first time of his NFL career

Throughout the course of the Chiefs 2011 season there has been much fan inquiry regarding the repeating inactive status of rookie quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

There shouldn’t be.

Understanding Stanzi’s inactive status is simple. It’s been all about the numbers game.

If you’re up to date with the structure of NFL inactives, go ahead and skip past the italicized paragraph below. If not, the italics will provide a refresher.

NFL teams are permitted to roster 53 players, but can only dress a maximum of 46 players for each game. That means seven players are unable to play each week. Some of those seven are injured, while others are not. Stanzi has been in the latter category all season long.

Though it’s not for everyone, Chiefs coach Todd Haley is plenty comfortable going into a game with just two healthy quarterbacks. Actually, he seems to prefer it.

Haley set the precedent last season when Matt Cassel and Brodie Croyle were the only two quarterbacks on the Chiefs 53-man roster for the majority of the year. It wasn’t until Cassel underwent an emergency appendectomy in December that the team promoted Tyler Palko from the practice squad.

Keeping the third quarterback on the practice squad wasn’t an option this year when Palko held off Stanzi during a training camp battle for the primary backup job to Cassel.

The Chiefs certainly weren’t going to cut Stanzi, who was a fifth round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, so Haley kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

Regardless, Haley has opted to keep an extra special teams player active on gameday over a third quarterback who is unlikely to see the field barring an extreme injury situation.

“I think we’re all very encouraged with Ricky, we really are,” Haley said. “He’s the type of guy you want playing quarterback. I won’t go into detail because we’ve talked about him a bunch, but we’re all encouraged with Ricky Stanzi and the progress he’s made.

“Again, I think we would have done different things from a roster standpoint if we didn’t feel that way.”

Had the Chiefs not felt strongly about Stanzi’s potential, they’d have cut him or tried to sneak him onto the practice squad.

Palko wasn’t just competing against Stanzi for the backup job, but against all free agent quarterbacks as well. The Chiefs had opportunities to sign veterans with more experience, but decided to roll the dice with Palko as their top reserve.

So Stanzi has been waiting, studying a playbook he didn’t receive until the first day of training camp because of the NFL lockout, knowing he wouldn’t have much of a chance to push for playing time until 2012. Unless, of course, an injury occurred.

That injury has now occurred.

At any given moment Stanzi is one snap away from making his NFL debut.

“When you’re inactive there is absolutely no chance of playing, but now there is,” Stanzi said. “That’s a different responsibility all together and it’s a different mentality, but that’s part of the game and you have to be able to step in and be ready to go.”

Stanzi’s primary job this season has come as the Chiefs scout team quarterback. In that role he works with the defensive staff in running the opponents’ offense in practice each week.

Because of that experience, the rookie out of Iowa feels he’s more ready to play in an NFL game now than he was coming out of training camp.

“Each week you try to get a little better at something and just build off that,” Stanzi said. “You don’t know when an opportunity will present itself, but you have to be ready to go. That’s your job as a teammate and that’s your job as a player.”

With the injury to Cassel, Stanzi now assumes Palko’s former role on the sideline as an extra set of eyes to the starting quarterback.

“It’s a little more communication with the first-string guy and talking with him about what I’m seeing out there and just keeping a more alert eye on what’s going on,” Stanzi said as he explained the gameday differences between the second and third-string quarterbacks. “It’s also about being ready to go physically as well.”

For now, there is no debate whether or not Stanzi should be the starting quarterback. That job belongs to Palko.

Palko earned the job in training camp and climbed an often times conscienceless mountain of practice squads and pink slips to gain this opportunity. Throwing Stanzi to the wolves in a Monday night road game would be conscienceless as well.

 “I think Ricky is doing a terrific job, he’s getting better, he’s making progress,” Haley said. “But I think Tyler is clearly the next in line.”

Stanzi will likely see the field at some point over the remaining seven games of the regular season. Even if that experience comes in garbage time, it will benefit his development as an NFL quarterback.

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