Kansas City, Mo. Chiefs coach Todd Haley still believes in his unique approach to training camp, even after losing tight end Tony Moeaki to a season-ending knee injury and watching Matt Cassel leave Kansas City’s preseason finale because of banged-up ribs.
Cassel was a full participant in practice Monday, but Haley refused to discuss his status for Sunday’s regular-season opener against Buffalo. The Pro Bowl quarterback left in the second quarter Thursday night after getting sacked by 340-pound Packers defensive tackle Howard Green.
“He was out there practicing,” Haley said. “It was our first real game-plan day, so always some kinks to work through, but I thought we had a productive day across the board.”
Most coaches prefer to rest their starters after one or two series in their final preseason game to guard against injuries. Haley took a different tack after the lockout turned training camp upside down, playing his regulars sparingly the first three games in an attempt to get them into proper condition.
Haley then turned them loose into the fourth quarter against the Packers.
“I don’t know that there’s a training camp you go through without injuries,” Haley said. “Injuries are an unfortunate part of it, but if you’re asking if that’s why guys got hurt, no, in my opinion.”
Players routinely grit their teeth through rib injuries, but anything that slows Cassel the least bit could be devastating for a Chiefs offense that relies heavily on his decision making.
Kansas City lost 31-0 to the San Diego Chargers last season in its only game without him under center, gaining just 67 yards of total offense. And the Chiefs fell 38-24 to the Baltimore Ravens in their 2009 opener, which Cassel missed with a knee injury. Brodie Croyle started that game.
“We were just being cautious,” Cassel said after the Packers game, adding he just got the wind knocked out of him and that he may have landed on the ball. “I wanted to go back in.”
Instead, journeyman Tyler Palko and fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi finished the game.
Palko earned the No. 2 job during training camp and would be first off the bench, but neither backup has much experience. Palko was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2007, bounced around Arizona and Pittsburgh, and finally ended up with Kansas City, where he went 4-for-6 for 35 yards while playing late in a pair of lopsided losses last season.
“Matt’s the starter, so I mean, we’re full speed ahead right now with Matt,” Palko said. “If my number is called upon, I have to be ready to go, which I will be. Just see how it goes.”
Fullback Le’Ron McClain believes Cassel will be ready to go Sunday.
“He threw me some passes in practice, he’s moving around great, throwing the ball good,” McClain said in the locker room after practice. “I asked him, was he OK when we got back here, and he said he’s good, and that’s all I got to hear. He’ll be ready.”
Cassel’s ailment appears to be minor compared to the knee injury sustained by Moeaki, also in the second quarter against the Packers. The tight end was put on injured reserve Saturday.
The Chiefs had already lost linebacker Brandon Siler for the season due to an Achilles tendon injury. Cornerback Brandon Flowers and Steve Breaston missed time during camp, offensive linemen Ryan Lilja and Barry Richardson have been hobbled by undisclosed injuries, and first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin has been out after hurting his thumb during an altercation with a teammate.
“I feel like we had a plan and a way we wanted to handle a little different situation,” Haley said. “I feel like we were able to move through the training camp and preseason in a very productive manner for our team as it relates to the 2011 season, which is really what training camp is all about.”
Injuries to Cassel and Moeaki are the most significant yet, at least in terms of what they bring to the offense — and both happened at a point when other teams were sitting their starters.
“Most everything we did pertained to injuries and doing our best to prevent them, knowing that our guys were in core shape, or as close to core shape as we could get them, we’d have a better chance to practice and play in a healthy manner,” Haley said. “We put a lot of thought, time and energy into trying to figure out what was best for the Kansas City Chiefs.”