Coach Todd Haley said it's too early to gauge whether or not Matt Cassel will play for the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, who face the division rival San Diego Chargers on Sunday, four days after the quarterback had a laparoscopic appendectomy.
"Some guys have had the procedure and been out for awhile, some guys have come back quickly," Haley said Thursday. "We have to wait. I really don't have anything to give."
Haley added that he isn't engaging in gamesmanship to try to keep the Chargers guessing. After speaking to Cassel and receiving medical reports, Haley isn't ruling out his quarterback for the crucial AFC West matchup.
"He's such a tough guy," Haley said. "He's got it internally, he shows it externally. There have been times before when the backups have gotten excited out at practice (in preparation to play), only to see him come on the field."
Backup Brodie Croyle took the first-team snaps at practice and will start if Cassel can't play. Tyler Palko, newly promoted off the practice squad, was the backup.
The most optimistic fans have Cassel trading his hospital gown for shoulder pads and starting against second-place San Diego. They're encouraged knowing that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed only one game for the Pittsburgh Steelers after an emergency appendectomy right before the 2006 season.
Pessimists are saying Cassel will be gone for at least two weeks -- road games at San Diego and St. Louis -- and perhaps longer. Having to go with injury-prone backup Croyle -- 0-9 as an NFL starter -- has them fearing the ruin of what has shaped up as Kansas City's best season since 2003.
"I appreciate the desire for all the Cassel questions that are probably out there," Haley said. "But I'm just going to keep it as I always do. He'll be listed as out today on the injury report, meaning he did not practice. Then we'll have his status tomorrow. I'll just leave it at that.
Croyle hasn't taken one snap in a game all season, and he hasn't started a game since the 2009 season opener, when Cassel was hurt. Croyle went 16-of-24 passing for 177 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-24 loss at Baltimore. He saw limited action in consecutive games against the Chargers and Denver Broncos in Weeks 12 and 13, going a combined 7 of 16 for 53 yards.
But Croyle is familiar with Kansas City's system and is in many ways the same sort of quarterback as Cassel.
"The good thing is I think there's a bunch of similarities," Haley said. "I think they can both be viewed as dropback quarterbacks. They both have enough mobility to get themselves out of trouble. Arm strength, those things, there's a lot of similarities between the two."
The Chiefs used a play clock in practice Thursday to help Croyle reacclimate to game speed.
"It's been a long time for Brodie. I think that's something a quarterback misses when he's not playing a bunch," Haley said. "We talked about our defense taking a great deal of pride this week, to really try to up the ante, so to speak, for the look the offenses get. They realize we're trying to get somebody game-ready who hasn't necessarily played a lot.
Haley said Palko's promotion to the active roster actually was a "coincidence."
"We had to make a move in another area and we were able to get somebody up and that determination was made ... in (Tuesday) night's staff meeting," Haley said, according to the Kansas City Star. "That's when we made the determination who would we thought would best serve us.
"We've been a little on the edge with two quarterbacks the entire year and really had a chance without there being a clear-cut guy we felt could come in and be on the game-day roster," Haley added. "The fact you can use a third emergency quarterback was the determining factor. At least it was a body we could get to the game to serve a purpose."
Palko, who was promoted from the practice squad Wednesday, said he and Croyle had texted Cassel.
"We exchanged text messages last night," Palko said. "He's still breathing, so he's good. We didn't talk very much. He texted Brodie and I and said thanks for asking about it, and everything was good. A couple of words, and that was it."
There seemed little doubt to Palko that Croyle would play Sunday.
"Brodie's a great player. He's done a lot of good things. I'm excited for him," Palko said. "He's going to go wing it around, and I'm excited to go watch him."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.