Underdog Stanzi winning over fans in KC

Chiefs QB Ricky Stanzi is quietly picking up a cult following for his antics and underdog status.

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