Two of the biggest surprises of the 2010 campaign start up their respective preseason schedules Friday at Arrowhead Stadium, where the defending AFC West champion Chiefs play host to the up-and-coming Buccaneers.
Kansas City and Tampa Bay combined for a paltry total of seven victories in 2009, but each managed to make dramatic turnarounds in their head coach’s second season in charge. Both Todd Haley and Raheem Morris amassed impressive 10-6 regular-season records despite young rosters and low expectations, with Haley’s Chiefs reaching the playoffs and Morris’ Bucs just missing out on a Wild Card berth.
The Buccaneers are sticking with the kid movement, as the team’s top three selections in the 2011 draft — defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers and middle linebacker Mason Foster — are all expected to hold down starting roles on defense as rookies.
That trio will be ones to watch for a Tampa team that will have the majority of the players from last year’s improvement on hand once again, though Bowers may see limited preseason reps because of a preexisting knee injury that caused the talented pass rusher to slip to the second round.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs’ first-round choice in 2009, and second-year wide receiver Arrelious Benn also figure to be brought on slowly. McCoy is coming off a biceps tear that cut short his rookie year, while Benn is still on the mend from a torn ACL sustained in December.
Though the Bucs will be cautious with Benn, Morris did state that he plans to give Josh Freeman around 20 plays in what will be a homecoming for the third- year quarterback. Freeman is a native of the Kansas City area and played collegiately at Kansas State.
Much of Kansas City’s roster reshuffling took place at wide receiver, where the club had a hard time developing a consistent threat opposite Pro Bowl honoree Dwayne Bowe last season. To help remedy that situation, the Chiefs took Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin in the first round of 2011 draft and landed veteran Steve Breaston, a former pupil of Haley’s in Arizona, via free agency.
Baldwin, who missed some time early on in training camp with a hamstring pull, has mostly been working with the second-team offense in practice sessions.
Another rookie of note for the Chiefs is quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a fifth- round pick out of Iowa who’ll begin a preseason competition with returnee Tyler Palko for the backup’s role behind Matt Cassel.
The Chiefs will be attempting to avenge a 20-15 road loss to the Bucs during the 2010 preseason. Tampa Bay owns a 4-1 advantage on Kansas City in preseason play and has won the last three regular-season tilts between the clubs as well, including a 30-27 overtime triumph at Arrowhead Stadium in 2008.