The pre-season is practice, and practice games like the one coming up against the Chiefs this weekend serve two primary roles: 1) Give starters and their depth the opportunity get comfortable with each other and with new concepts the coaching staff is rolling out; 2) Winnowing down the back end of the roster by giving those players the opportunity to show their skills in live action.
This piece is focused entirely on the latter.
By my count, there are at least 35 players who are currently on the roster who are ironclad locks, short of some sort of season-ending injury or suspension. I’m not going to enumerate them here, but you very likely already know who they are. The goal for these players in the pre-season is basically to get through unscathed.
The next tier of players are those I would consider “replaceable but safe.” I count around 12 such players currently on the roster. I’ll list them, as there may be some level of disagreement on the composition of the group:
- Taylor Heinicke (QB)
- Dax Milne (WR)
- Cam Sims (WR)
- Saahdiq Charles (OL)
- Chris Paul (OL)
- Daniel Wise (DL)
- James Smith-Williams (DL)
- Casey Toohill (DL)
- Khaleke Hudson (LB)
- David Mayo (LB)
- Danny Johnson (CB)
- Darrick Forrest (S)
That leaves around 6 roster slots up for grabs once the final roster goes to 53, and by my breakdown, two of those are on offense, with four on defense. The special teams - assuming Joey Slye doesn’t miss anymore kicks this pre-season - can likely be etched in stone. So, let’s explore those position groups where a spot is currently up for grabs.
My assumption is that the team will carry four tight ends, and given its recent rash of injuries at the position, that that might not be enough. Logan Thomas, John Bates, and Cole Turner are all roster locks.
What once was a crowded race for TE4 has now, essentially, been narrowed down to a two-man race: Armani Rogers and Curtis Hodges.
Armani Rogers is a smooth player. Like how he runs; like a big receiver. Improving as a blocker. Curtis Hodges had some nice blocks, tho better when on the move vs. at the line. Adjustment.— John Keim (@john_keim) August 14, 2022
Both players got quite a few snaps against the Panthers, but with Hodges apparently suffering some sort of issue this week, the Chiefs game very well could be the Armani Rogers’ show.
If you didn't think the TE room could get thinner, Curtis Hodges joins John Bates and Cole Turner on the side field.— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) August 17, 2022
In terms of what I’ve seen to date, I prefer Rogers’ chances to Hodges’, which is astonishing given that Rogers - a former college QB - had never played tight end until earlier this year.
Meet Armani Rogers, the 6'5" 225lb former QB who is converting to TE for this draft. The words "tools" and "upside" do not even do him justice, but he is BRAND NEW to the position.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) March 2, 2022
How new? This was the second route he ever ran in a practice in his entire life. Not bad, eh? pic.twitter.com/bgMmoU1mbn
With Chase Roullier still slowly working his way back from serious injury, the back-up center becomes a fairly critical role. As you may recall, the team ended up playing four different centers last year in total. Wes Schweitzer has guard/center flexibility, but there’s also a decent chance he’s one of the starting guards. So, that leaves Tyler Larsen and Keith Ismael competing for the 10th OL position on the roster.
Larsen is entering his 7th year in the league, with Ismael entering his third.
First-team OL in warmups: Charles Leno, Andrew Norwell, Keith Ismael, Wes Schweitzer, Sam Cosmi.— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) August 13, 2022
Danny Johnson with the 1s as Benjamin St-Juste sits.
I would guess the preference is for Ismael to step up into the role - it’s certainly my preference - but the next couple pre-season games will surely be critical in how the situation eventually plays out.
Once Chase Young is healthy, there are 8 DL who are either locks or safe depth on the line. I’m projecting one more open slot with several potential options to fill it. Free agent Efe Obada and 2021 7th rounders William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney are the front runners for the spot, in my opinion.
The next two games will be a proving ground for these guys, and could end up even being the last time we end up seeing one or two in the burgundy and gold. If either Bradley-King or Toney are pushed to the practice squad, for instance, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them poached.
Sweat said the defensive line has some great tools. Mentions Shaka Toney, Bradley-King and Efe Obada. "We got a lot of guys who want to get better every day."— Zach Selby (@ZachSelbyWC) August 4, 2022
With two linebacker duos either locks or safe depth, I figure there’s perhaps one more linebacker slot up for grabs for someone particularly adept at special teams. Could that be the hard hitting Milo Eifler...
....or perhaps Tre Walker, the young linebacker from Idaho that Ron Rivera talked out of retirement early in training camp.
Steven Parker has been impressive as hell. The defense changed with Tre Walker and Eifler in for LB— Kareem (@Kareem_is_it) August 13, 2022
The three starters at corner are obviously all locks, and based on the time he played last week, Danny Johnson seems like a fairly safe depth bet, leaving one more cornerback spot available for competition.
Corn Elder and 2022 7th rounder Christian Holmes seem to be the players best positioned for the bottom of this group.
Have also heard multiple positive reviews of 7th-round CB Christian Holmes… secondary playing well as a whole.— COMMANDERS FOOTBALL (@HogsHaven) July 31, 2022
Would be awesome if we’re able to hit on a couple under-the-radar DBs for a young infusion of talent
Finally, the back end of the defense may be as deep as it’s ever been in quite a long time. Kam Curl and Bobby McCain are solid starters with special teams specialists and/or buffalo nickel option Percy Butler and Darrick Forrest as back-up options.
Jeremy Reaves, who was signed by Washington three years ago seems finally to be in the mix for a more active role, but Stephen Parker, signed during camp, appears to be making his most of the pre-season. The next couple games could be critical for each of these young men.
McCain said Jeremy Reaves is one of the smartest players in the secondary. He makes the most of his opportunities— Zach Selby (@ZachSelbyWC) August 17, 2022
Which of these position battles do you expect to be most competitive?
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