Underdog Stanzi winning over fans in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You brace for the usual jive. Some
line about arm strength. Or poise. Or command of the playbook. How Ricky Stanzi
is growing up, becoming a man before their very eyes.

Instead, Dexter McCluster considers the question for a second, repeating it out
loud.

“The difference between Ricky now and then?” the Kansas City Chiefs’
tailback/receiver asks.

“Yep,” you say.

“He dances a lot. He likes to have fun.”

“As in, dance in the pocket? That kind of thing?”

“No,” McCluster continues, laughing. “Off-the-field,
getting-your-groove-on type of dancing.”

“What?”

“He’s a funny guy. He’s definitely a funny guy.”

Yeah, deep down, there’s a little bit of Joe Montana in Stanzi — from a
personality standpoint, at least. Joe Cool was infamous for cracking wise in
the most tense of circumstances. During one television timeout in Super Bowl
XXIII, the 49ers trailing the Bengals 16-13, three minutes and change left in
the game, Montana grabbed tackle Harris Barton, pointed to the stands, and
asked: “Isn’t that John Candy?”

That’s Stanzi.

“He’s a guy that, when he first came in, you couldn’t really read
him,” McCluster allows. “He always seemed real confident, always laid
back. He’s a guy that never shows frustration, never shows timidness. He’s
always relaxed and comfortable. You always like a guy like that.”

The most beloved quarterbacks on the planet are the legends, the proven, the
untouchables. The second-most are the unknowns, the backups, on the off chance
that they might become one day become legends. It’s one of the oldest axioms in
the NFL: The bums you know can’t hold a candle to the devil you don’t.

Stanzi is a prime example of the latter. The less we see, the more the former
Iowa star fascinates us. Other than three preseason appearances last August, in
which he threw for one touchdown and was sacked nine times, nobody’s really
sure what the 6-foot-4 signal-caller can — or can’t — do at this level.

“He had no offseason (in 2011), he had no chance in the fall because he
had no chance to work on the playbook,” notes former Chiefs great Ed
Podolak, who called Stanzi’s college tilts for the Hawkeyes radio network.
“If he had had a playbook to work with and practice with, I think he
would’ve played toward the end of the year.”

Barring injury, there’s a good chance he’ll play before the end of this one.
And, given that many Chiefs fans seem to have made up their minds (rightly or
wrongly) regarding Matt Cassel — and, to some degree, veteran backup Brady
Quinn — The Stanzi Lust Train is starting to pick up steam again. When you ask
the Ohio native if he knows just how popular he’s becoming in some parts of
town, he shrugs.

“I mean, I really don’t know anything about that,” Stanzi says,
grinning ever so slightly. “I try to stay out of those things, and you
know, the (talk about) what’s popular. I just go out and just do your job, and
practice hard and know what you’re expected to do and then just go from there.
Be a good teammate.”

And the dancing?

Another grin.

“I think that’s a rumor,” Stanzi says. “That’s just a dirty
rumor.”

This isn’t: Over the past two weeks of organized team activities (OTAs), the
ex-Hawkeye, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011, has been splitting work alongside
the second-team offense with Quinn. Of course, this gets Chiefs fans fairly
excited, for the reasons mentioned above.

“It was nice to have this offseason to get (into) the playbook, obviously,
look at all the new formations and the different things that are special to
that offense,” Stanzi says. “And just to go out there and actually do
drops before actual training camp.

“Just that simple combination makes a huge difference when you’re able to
go out there, rep things out. Get a feel for what the offense is mentally
before you actually go out there and do it physically.”

In that sense, Stanzi’s a rookie again, and not just because he’s learning from
scratch a new offense installed by coordinator Brian Daboll. A year ago, he
lost all of the traditional rookie spring acclimation period — the younger you
are, the more valuable May and June are to your development — because of the
NFL’s lockout, forcing a cramming job in July and August once labor peace was
at hand.

“Yeah, it definitely feels more like, I guess, how a rookie year should
feel,” says Stanzi, who has yet to appear in an NFL regular-season contest.
“You know more people on the team, obviously, from it being your second
year, those simple things. But not having an offseason last year, it was just a
different thing; you had to adjust to it. This year, (it’s my) real first offseason
as an NFL player.”

And his first real offseason opportunity. While we’re still in the
shorts-and-helmets part of the pro calendar, now’s the time to tinker. Stanzi
is expected to rotate with Quinn on the second team until somebody settles into
a lasting groove.

Last Tuesday, scribes walked away from the open practice at Arrowhead Drive
talking about Stanzi’s arm; On Monday, Quinn appeared to be the sharper of the
two. Even if the tempo drags, this is one dance that gets a little more
interesting by the day.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler
or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com