Saturday, August 18, 2012
Camp Confidential: Kansas City Chiefs
By Bill Williamson
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- This isn’t a training camp for the leisurely.
Armed with the best roster the franchise has seen in years, the Kansas City Chiefs are moving quickly under new coach Romeo Crennel. For those who visited the Chiefs camp last year, this pace is foreign.
“There are no wasted moments,” said quarterback Matt Cassel.
The final training camp under former coach Todd Haley will live in infamy in the Heartland. Last season's camp was essentially a three-week walk-through exercise. Haley chose to go that route because he wanted to ease the players back into the program after a lost offseason due the lockout. The plan didn’t work, because the Chiefs were physically and mentally behind the rest of the league. They suffered several major injuries early in the season, were drubbed in early games, and it set the tone for a disappointing season.
However, speed is back in vogue as Crennel tries for success in his second go-round as a head coach. The tempo change has paid off so far. The Chiefs have looked crisp in practices and they were dominant on both sides of the ball against Arizona in the preseason opener last week.
The idea is to keep the forward tempo moving into the season as Kansas City tries to win the AFC West for the second time in three seasons.
“It’s exciting to see what is happening here,” Cassel said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are all on the same page and all want to have success together.”
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. The ACL Club: In addition to bringing in several free agents, the Chiefs are getting back three standouts. Safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki all suffered torn ACLs last September, but all are on pace to be major contributors this season.
“All of those guys look great,” Cassel said. “They’re going to help us a lot.”
2. Dwayne Bowe’s absence: It is over now. Bowe signed his franchise tender Friday, a day after camp ended. The Pro Bowl receiver did not participate in the offseason workouts, either. Bowe likely reported in time to learn the system of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and get into football shape. With him being out, the Chiefs' offense clicked and it gained a lot of confidence. Having Bowe back heading out of camp should only make this unit stronger
Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel has the respect of his players.
3. Good vibrations: This team is in a good place. The players love playing for Crennel. One of the reasons Crennel was promoted from interim coach was the players’ respect for him. It has continued now that he is the permanent coach. He is the polar opposite of Haley, who was known as somewhat of a loose cannon. Crennel offers a calm, steady hand. Players love that he’s organized and up front. There is a lot of trust.
“They’ve worked hard and they know the possibilities this team has," Crennel said. “Every team feels good about itself this time of year, but this team’s attitude is in the right place.”
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
This is the best overall roster in the AFC West. It is one of the deepest rosters in the AFC. There is proven talent throughout the roster and the team has the right mix of veteran and young players. Still, the Chiefs are the youngest team in the NFL. They are the only team in the league not to have a player over the age of 30.
“When I was on my visit, I just looked up and down this roster and saw so much talent,” free-agent pickup, tight end Kevin Boss said. “It is just loaded with talent.”
When you look at this roster, there isn’t much not to like.
REASON FOR PESSIMISM
The Chiefs will be dismissed as playoff contenders until Cassel proves otherwise. Many don't believe in them because they don’t believe in Cassel, even though he has already delivered a division title in Kansas City. Many scouts don’t think he can be a difference-maker, and that because he is the least talented of the four quarterbacks in the AFC West, he will not be able to overcome the other teams in the division. I believe there is enough talent on the roster to help Cassel lead the Chiefs deep into the playoffs, but he must prove his mettle.
The rap on No. 11 overall pick Dontari Poe is that the defensive tackle wasn’t productive at Memphis. The Chiefs didn’t feel that way. They reviewed every college snap he ever played and were impressed that he played 60 percent of the snaps at 346 pounds. For what it’s worth, Poe’s college statistics and combine measurables compare favorably to Green Bay’s B.J. Raji, who has become a star after being the No. 9 overall pick in 2009. Poe is two inches taller and nine pounds heavier than Raji, yet he ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at the combine compared to Raji’s 5.23. Poe had nine more tackles and four more quarterback hurries than Raji in college despite the fact Raji played 16 more college games. This is not to suggest Poe is going to be a better NFL player than Raji, but it does take some steam out of the argument that Poe wasn’t a productive college player.
The Chiefs like what they've seen from first-round pick Dontari Poe so far.
When Bowe held out, Jon Baldwin thrived under the professional guidance of veteran receivers Steve Breaston and Terrance Copper. Some folks in camp think Baldwin is making strides because he is taking cues from Copper and Breaston.
Defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are plus players for the Chiefs. Neither is spectacular and they will always get grief for not living up to their draft billing. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 and Jackson went No. 3 a year later. But both players are excellent run-stuffers and are among the best in the league in that area.
Inside linebacker Brandon Siler looks good after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury. He could push Jovan Belcher for playing time.
While Haley was known for his ranting and raving on the field, Daboll is also fiery. He scoots around the field, barking instruction.
His new teammates love running back Peyton Hillis. His toughness and competitiveness have created buzz during camp.
Left tackle Branden Albert is quietly becoming the player the former Kansas City regime thought it was getting when it took him No. 15 overall in 2008. I expect the Chiefs to try to extend the pending free agent at some point. He’s been stellar.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brady Quinn-Ricky Stanzi battle to be Cassel’s backup continues all season, but with Quinn winning the job initially. The Chiefs like where they stand with both players.
The Chiefs are excited about the potential of tight ends Moeaki and Boss. Expect both to have high-profile roles in the offense.
Second-year pass-rusher Justin Houston has been terrific, and the Chiefs are bubbling over at what kind of pass-rush combination Tamba Hali and Houston can become.
The team appreciates the flexibility of third-year player Dexter McCluster, who has bounced from receiver to running back to receiver again. McCluster may never have a classically defined role, but he will have a role in this offense.
Undrafted rookie receiver Josh Bellamy still has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but in a numbers game, he could wind up on the practice squad.
So far, so good for new center Rodney Hudson. The second-year player looks comfortable playing with Cassel and vice versa.
Camp observers believe kicker Ryan Succop has gotten bigger and stronger, which will help with his field goal range.
The team's fourth-round pick, receiver/returner Devon Wylie, is explosive. He will be given a chance to contribute.
Brandon Flowers’ foot injury has allowed second-year cornerback Jalil Brown to blossom. I expect Brown to be on the field often in the regular season.
Fourth-string quarterback Alex Tanney is a curiosity because of his YouTube trick throwing video. But Tanney isn’t making much real football tread in this camp. The best he could hope for in 2012 is the practice squad.