- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Todd Haley is heading on vacation for some nice, quiet down time with his wife and their five children feeling much more comfortable about his team than he did last year.
As a rookie NFL coach, Haley was thrown into the fire when he took over the Kansas City Chiefs in February 2009. He went through his own growing pains while trying to change the culture in Kansas City and get his players in better shape. The Chiefs lost a collective 700-plus pounds last offseason.
After a 4-12 season in 2009, the Chiefs have made strides this offseason. Haley has brought in Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel to coordinate his offense and defense, respectively, along with secondary coach Emmitt Thomas. Their credentials have left Haley very comfortable with his staff this year.
Haley fired Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator days before the start of last season and took over the duties himself. He feels working with Weis -- the two shared an office together as assistants with the Jets in the 1990s -- will help him in every aspect.
Meanwhile, the roster appears to be in much better shape after the Chiefs shored up both sides of the ball in free agency and the draft. Haley has built a reputation for being very straightforward and honest about his team. Often last season, he said he thought his team wasn’t very good. After a productive offseason, Haley knows the Chiefs are heading in the right direction.
“It’s just June, but I feel very comfortable this year because of several different reasons,” Haley said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s been good … We still have a long, dark tunnel to get through but things are going well. Again, it’s only June, but I’m pleased about where things are at.”
In a 35-minute interview, Haley touched on several subjects. Here are some of the keys to the 2010 season as he sees it:
Quarterback Matt Cassel: Cassel took a lot of heat last season when he didn't make that big of a difference after signing a $40 million deal.
Yet Haley believes Cassel will benefit from an improved offensive line, the presence of running back Thomas Jones and a stronger receiving group. Haley has praised Cassel’s spirit, work ethic and resolve.
“This guy is making progress in a bunch of ways,” Haley said. “He had a very difficult year last year, but he didn’t crack. That’s a good sign. He has been one of our best workers this offseason, if not the best. He’s working.
“We had 50-plus drops last season. If those don’t happen, people would look at Cassel differently … If we get the improved offensive play around him that we hope to, I think people will feel better about Matt Cassel.”
Running back Thomas Jones: One reason for hope in Kansas City is the arrival of Jones. The combination of the veteran Jones, who had 1,400-plus yards last season and was third in the NFL in rushing, and young star Jamaal Charles gives Kansas City the makings of one of the best rushing attacks in the league.
Charles had 1,120 yards as a part-time starter, including 259 rushing yards at Denver in the season finale. One of the reasons why Jones was brought in was to keep the smallish Charles fresh so that he can use his game-breaking speed throughout the game.
So far, Haley likes what he sees in Jones, his new veteran tailback.
“Thomas Jones is a special dude,” Haley said. “He has a high football character guy. He hasn’t missed a day. He helps set the tone.”
The Chiefs are excited about their draft class. The team took Tennessee safety Eric Berry with the No. 5 overall pick and running back/receiver/returner Dexter McCluster and cornerback/returner Javier Arenas in the second round.
All three players are explosive, productive players who should help right away.
The other players in the 2010 draft class -- guard Jon Asamoah, tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Kendrick Lewis and linebacker Cameron Sheffield -- also have a chance to contribute in the near future, especially Moeaki.
Haley is thrilled with what he has seen from the rookies, but he still wants to see what they can do in training camp and in the preseason before defining expectations.
“We think this is a unique group,” Haley said. "We haven't been in pads and it's just June, but everyone has a chance to contribute sooner than later as a whole [class]." It’s a humble group, but it’s a group that is not intimidated. This whole thing doesn’t seem too big for this group.”
The Chiefs are counting on the two former Louisiana State stars to help improve the defense. Haley likes the effort he is seeing from both players.
On Dorsey: “He came in here last year out of shape and he was behind the eight ball. But he has stepped up and he has worked hard. He is trying to get better.”
On Jackson: “Tyson knows he had a difficult rookie reason. But he has worked his tail off and he wants to take the next step … I feel good about the both of those guys.”
Again, it’s only June, but it seems like Haley feels good about his entire team as the 2010 season approaches.
5dEric D. Williams