KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a steel-cage match of unknown vs. unknown, better to go with the devil you know as opposed to the devil you don’t. Of course, when you don’t know either devil for squat, all bets are off.
And so with two weeks left until the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs training camp begins, as to the question of Chase Daniel’s backup — Tyler Bray or Ricky Stanzi — your guess is as good as ours. Better, probably.
With the No. 3 quarterbacking derby, a spring of mixed messages continued into June. Toward the end of organized team activities and into mini-camp, Bray, the undrafted rookie out of the University of Tennessee, was getting a larger share of reps with the reserves. New coach Andy Reid singled him out several times for praise, although usually as a response to media prodding.
But then, just as soon as we were ready to start the standing eight count on Slick Rick, came a nugget from the National Football Post late last month in which sources decreed that Stanzi had an “early edge” over Bray because the former has Reid’s offense “down pat.”
So even if you go the Ben Franklin route and believe none of what you hear and half of what you see, we’re back at square one. Or lost. Or something.
What is clear is that it’s a race, at least, or as much as a race to be the No. 1 clipboard carrier can be. In a camp that opens with a lot of key positions on the two-deep pretty well down in ink, you take the subplots where you can find ’em.
And what this particular scrum lacks in sex appeal — if either Stanzi or Bray is forced to see the field in the autumn, Katy bar the door — it almost makes up for in terms of intrigue. Almost.
“He’s got a gun, there,” Reid said of Bray. “So he’s strong-armed.”
So what’ll it be: The arm? Or the hair?
As it stands, some of Chiefsland digs Stanzi. Some of Chiefsland can’t wait to see the back of him. Most of Chiefsland is fascinated, though. The third-year quarterback out of Iowa is the ultimate unknown, the jar of salsa at the back of the pantry that’s never been opened.
It might be great. It might stink up the kitchen. It might melt the face off your cat. The point is, we have no idea.
And so the 6-foot-4 Ohio native with the ’70s teen-idol mane remains a source of unabated curiosity, if not mild obsession.
For one, among a position group that was almost completely blown up through trades (Alex Smith), free agency (Chase Daniel) or the collegiate ranks (Bray), Stanzi is the only quarterbacking holdover from the Pioli/Haley/Crennel regime.
Which, now that you mention it, is a double-edged sword. Yes, Stanzi was drafted, but he was drafted by a cadre of evaluators that history will regard as dubious — and that’s putting it kindly — when it comes to their judgment and handling of quarterbacks.
To put it another way, despite repeated failings by the people ahead of him, the Chiefs, rather puzzlingly, never seemed to seriously consider giving Stanzi a serious turn at bat. Which is either a scathing indictment of his acumen, sight unseen, or just another log to toss into the bonfire of Pioli incompetence.
What we have is a sample size that’s small and floats about as far as a cardboard raft. In three preseason games last summer, Stanzi went 9-of-18 passing with no touchdowns and a pick, while getting sacked six times. In three preseason games in the summer before that, he was 18-for-34 passing with a touchdown and a pick. Over the past two round of preseason trials, the dude spent a good chunk of his time running for dear life. What we can’t say with certainty is whether that was his fault, the fault of someone else, or the fault of several someone elses.
At least there’s footage against another team’s jersey. Which is more than we can say for Bray, the new kid in town, a young man whose natural ability and questionable judgment have drawn parallels to “Nuke” LaLoosh from “Bull Durham” and Kenny Powers, the mulleted protagonist of the television series “Eastbound & Down.”
You know the drill: Million-dollar arm, five-cent head. The NFL’s got a billion of those, and those careers tend to burn hot and fast, or just burn out altogether.
“He has all the intangibles and stuff that you can’t coach,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry told the Knoxville News Sentinel last month. “And that doesn’t come that often.”
Bray is a gifted project, but a project nonetheless, an absolutely horrifying thought under the previous administration. But Reid’s track record — in contrast to his predecessors — is pretty darn strong in that regard, as is his eye. And he came off sounding more than intrigued when asked to evaluate the former Volunteer at the end of mini-camp.
“I’ll tell you, he did a nice job,” Reid said. “He did a really nice job.
“You never know until you get them here. He’s in a good room, so he’s got good examples around him as players. He’s got coaches that have played the game, and the position, in there. He’s embraced that and really focused in. The fact is, he did a nice job and improved every day. You know, it’s cliché, but he was a bit like a sponge, just taking everything in, and I was impressed.”
Which is good for Bray. For Stanzi, probably, not so much.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.