Chiefs preseason opener: A look at changes on defense, rookie RB

Chiefs preseason opener: A look at changes on defense, rookie RB

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The Washington Chiefs lost 23-21 to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason opener, but when you look closely, the game showed some significant improvements, including an emerging scheme on defense, what a healthy Curtis Samuel can do for the offense and a big change. By offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

Scott Turner: New place, same plan

Despite having a new quarterback, many parts of offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme looked familiar. In three consecutive games with the first team, he has been able to create simple balls using high play and forehand movement. Washington was one of the league leaders in both categories last season.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Turner was location. In his first two years as coordinator, he called plays from the booth. On Saturday, he called them from the sidelines. After the game, as he was leaving the locker room, Turner explained that he made the switch “just for communication.”

Rivera credited Turner and quarterback Carson Wentz for getting them in a good rhythm.

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“You can see him waiting for Carson … the call, get in the huddle and really commandeer him, spit it out and then get in the lane,” Rivera said. “You know, we weren’t close to late games, we weren’t running out of game time and that told me we had a really good day.”

Defense workers are coming into focus

Although two key players are sidelined with injuries — cornerback Benjamin Saint-Juste (ankle) and defensive end Chase Young (ACL) — the three consecutive first-team defensive coaches have hinted at how they plan to fill the two spots without lockstep starters.

In the slot, Washington corner Danny Johnson used the nickel, although if Saint-Juste is healthy, he will probably start on Johnson. In the larger nickel sub-package, Cam Curl slid from safety to slot and second-year safety Darrick Forrest replaced him. Forrest appears to have the edge for the role of rookie safety Percy Butler.

“One thing you love about Darric is that he’s a very influential person,” Rivera said. “He runs around. He runs into things. He’s physical by nature, and he has incredible athleticism,” he said.

It was James Smith-Williams who ended up replacing Young as opposed to Montez Lab. It looks like the team likes Efe Obada and Casey Tohill as the second finalist.

A healthy view of Curtis Samuel

In the first game of the preseason, receiver Curtis Samuel had two catches for 14 yards — half of his injury-hit total last season (six catches, 27 yards). But numbers belie Samuel’s true influence. Turner seems to use him more on the move than any other receiver, perhaps trying to force Samuel’s versatility and explosiveness on defenders.

If Samuel can stay healthy — Rivera said the team will continue to follow his plan to get back in shape — then he could be a weapon that the offense lacked last year and catch after catch. Turner tipped by calling a screen on the second play of the game.

“I saw him in camp,” Wentz said. “I see … how explosive he is with the ball in his hands, it’s good for him to come out here, and I feel like that and it’s good to start developing that chemistry in a game.

A rookie running back shines.

After senior running back Antonio Gibson ran on the second drive, rookie Brian Robinson Jr. impressed with six carries for 26 yards and a touchdown. In one series, he showed off a number of skills — holding screens, using vision to find tight holes, physically running short distances — and showed off the polished backside he spent five years at Alabama.

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On a 1-yard touchdown run, Turner showed confidence in Robinson by moving two tight ends left to right and then running left.

“Brian showed us why we drafted him, and that’s a downhill, physical presence inside,” Rivera said. “He runs with a good lean. It moves the pile, one of the things that creates energy, and sets the tone for the offensive line. … I’m really excited about what we got.

Robinson said he didn’t expect to play as soon as he did, and while he’s ready to step in, he said he needs more reps to get familiar with the NFL.

“I’m still not comfortable,” he said after the game. “I still don’t think I’ve played enough to get the comfort I need to play in this position. But the series I was in gave me a good feel for what was to come. The more I keep getting game reps, the more comfortable I get.”

Washington reported an attendance of 44,855, which is the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans who went through the turnstiles.

This season, Washington is hoping to bounce back from a terrible 2021, finishing 31st in the NFL in average home attendance of 52,751. The crowd was less than the figure announced on Saturday, but before the game, the president of the team Jason Wright said as much. Due to the progress made by the business staff, the rebranding is ahead of schedule and ticket sales due to the rebuilding of the season ticket base.

“We feel like we’re in a really good place,” he said. Other teams have called us to find out what we’re doing, which is good.

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