• FUN OPENER FOR CHIEFS FANS — Normally NFL exhibition games elicit little more than a yawn, with the stadium nearly empty by early in the fourth quarter.
But the Kansas City Chiefs’ exhibition opener Thursday night against Cincinnati was a 60-minute thrill ride at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs scored on three returns, which keyed a wildly entertaining 41-39 victory.
Rookie De’Anthony Thomas already made Chiefs fans forget the departed Dexter McCluster with an eye-opening 80-yard punt return to become an instant favorite. All it took was one crease and Thomas blazed away for an easy touchdown.
The Chiefs’ much-maligned secondary returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Tight end Travis Kelce, who missed all his rookie year with an injury, may be the pass-catching threat the Chiefs have lacked at that position since Tony Gonzalez left. He showed good speed on a 69-yard TD pass and may be a mismatch for opposing linebackers.
Some other Chiefs thoughts:
• The big concern to Chiefs fans, no doubt, is that coach Andy Reid is going to overwork star running back Jamaal Charles to the point of exhaustion. After what I’ve seen of Knile Davis both last year as a rookie and this year as a more-confident second-year player, I think Reid can give Davis five to eight carries a game. Charles will be more effective if Reid gives him about 15 carries a game and five passes his way. I don’t believe Reid made as good of use of Charles out of the backfield on screens like he should have last year. It’s a total mismatch when he’s in the flat.
• Everyone knows this is quarterback Alex Smith’s team, but the battle wages on for the No. 2 spot. I’ve never been a Chase Daniel fan and while his numbers screamed efficiency last night — 8 of 10 for 126 yards — I don’t think he’s the guy who can get this team to the playoffs should something happen to Smith. I’d like to see Tyler Bray for about three quarters. He’s got a cannon for an arm.
• Starting cornerback Ron Parker, who has supplanted Sean Smith, had better get a whole lot better in a hurry if he wants to keep his job. He was getting turned every which way but loose by the Bengals’ receivers. When Smith got his chance, he came up with a pick-six.
• Kicker Carlos Santos arrived in Chiefs camp with the reputation of having a big leg, but he looks to be far behind longtime regular Ryan Succop. Santos’ kickoffs for the most part were easily returnable. In this era of the NFL, you have to consistently kick it out of the end zone.
• I can’t wait to see how last year’s overall No. 1 draft pick Eric Fisher performs now that he’s back at his natural position, left tackle. Fisher had all the makings of a bust last year at right tackle, but in fairness to him he’d never played the position and he seemingly was always hurt. I think he’ll experience a big turnaround.
• HAWKINSON SOLID — Cincinnati took a good look at McPherson’s Tanner Hawkinson by playing him the entire second half in the offensive line, first at left tackle and eventually at right tackle. He did a solid job and should have impressed the Bengals’ brass.
The presence of Hawkinson had me focusing on his every move. He received an early penalty for not being on the line of scrimmage, but after that he should have graded out well.
From published reports I have read, Hawkinson has impressed the Cincy line coaches with his athleticism and versatility. The Bengals moved him around in the fourth quarter and the fact he can play multiple positions should put him in good standing.
Hawkinson was not listed on the team’s two-deep at last publishing, but don’t read a whole lot into that. Just from everything I have read, he seems to be in good position to break camp with the team.
• ROYALS ROLLING — Stop the presses. If the major league baseball season ended at this moment, the Kansas City Royals would be in the playoffs.
The Royals now own the No. 2 wild-card spot after sweeping the woebegone Arizona Diamondbacks. They also have closed within 2 1/2 games of Detroit, which generally has been conceded the division by most experts, but is starting to feel the Royals’ hot breath on its neck.
Maybe it’s too bad the Royals are returning home for three games against San Francisco and four against Oakland. They have built their momentum on the ability to play well on the road, as they are 33-26, while just breaking even at home at 27-27.
If you throw out that one stinker error-induced eight-run inning last Saturday against Oakland, the Royals’ pitchers have not allowed more than three runs in a game since July 27. That’s an amazing stretch of pitching, anchored by a bullpen that has reduced games to six innings now that Kelvin Herrera has grabbed the seventh inning by the throat to complement Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
The Royals still don’t hit enough to be a World Series contender, but the progress they’re making is giving their fans hope for the future.
• WIGGINS IN LIMBO — It was less than two months ago that one-and-done KU freshman Andrew Wiggins was being celebrated as the overall No. 1 pick in the NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now Wiggins appears to be getting the bum’s rush out of town, thanks to LeBron James.
Although nothing can be announced until Aug. 23 due to a provision in Wiggins’ contract, all reports indicate he’s off to Minnesota in a deal to bring Kevin Love to Cleveland as James’ henchman. I hope Wiggins packs his winter clothes for those below-zero days of January and February.
What LeBron wants, LeBron gets. He wanted Love to go along with Kyrie Irving so he could create another “Big 3.” The Cavaliers, not surprisingly, apparently are going to oblige.
Love is proven, Wiggins isn’t. While he showed that he could leap tall buildings in a single bound, Wiggins’ ballhandling and outside shooting are suspect at best. LeBron apparently doesn’t want to wait to see if Wiggins is going to develop into a star or be a bust like the Cavaliers’ No. 1 pick from the year before, Anthony Bennett — who reportedly is being included in the Love deal with Wiggins. It’s hard to believe a team with the No. 1 overall pick the last two years would deal both of them, but when LeBron is calling the shots, anything is possible.