- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 27
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Sure, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley would rather their Kansas City Chiefs program was further along than it is as they approach the second preseason game of their second summer at the helm.
But they know it’s a long process. And the process is taking shape.
“I’ve been a part of great teams,” said Pioli, who was an executive in New England during its glory years. “We’re not there, but I’m encouraged. I feel better than I did this time last year.”
Pioli and Haley, whom Pioli hired as a first-time head coach in 2009, knew it would be a challenge when they took over a Kansas City team that won a combined six games in 2007 and '08. The Chiefs were not much better last season, finishing 4-12, but the team did make strides late in the year.
“I knew last year wasn’t going to be easy or fun or smooth or comfortable,” Haley said. “And it lived up to expectations. ... But we were building a program and trying to change things. We’re doing it our way.”
As a result, Pioli and Haley have seen progress this offseason and so far in camp.
“It’s apples and oranges,” Haley said. “I really like what we’re seeing. We still have a long way to go and we haven't done anything yet, but we are seeing the pieces come together in this program.”
That’s all the team’s brass can ask for from this young, intriguing team.
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. Is quarterback Matt Cassel getting better? It’s difficult to say quite yet. The word is that he has been better at times during camp, but he didn’t do much against Atlanta in the first preseason game. It’s time Cassel is unleashed and given the chance to show what he can do. The team is being very careful with him. Cassel has better weapons this year. With a better supporting cast, Cassel should be better in his second season in Kansas City. But we just haven’t seen it yet. His ability to lead Kansas City will very likely, once again, be a major storyline heading into the regular season.
2. What’s the influence of the two new coordinators? We are seeing a more disciplined, organized Kansas City team this camp. Much of the reason is because Haley is in his second season and everything usually flows better in a second season of a new era. Haley also acknowledges the presence of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel helps. The two veteran coaches, who were a big part of New England’s dynasty days, give valuable experience to Haley’s staff and bring a real presence to this team. This is a young team that has responded well to the top-notch coaching. The Chiefs are still very much a work in progress, but Weis and Crennel are helping bring this program up to speed.
“I think we have more continuity this year because of who we added to the staff,” Pioli said. “We all have history together.”
3. Where’s the pass rush coming from? We don’t know yet and that is worrisome. How are the Chiefs going to be a real contender if they don’t have a legitimate pass rush? This has been a problem in Kansas City since Jared Allen was shipped to Minnesota in 2008. We all know the Chiefs didn’t want to sign Allen to a long-term deal and we know the Chiefs got a decent bounty in return for him, but the truth is the pass rush has been almost non-existent since he left. In Allen’s first year away, the Chiefs set an NFL record for the fewest sacks in a season with 10. Last year, the pass rush was anemic as well. The lone legitimate pass-rusher on the team is Tamba Hali. He often hurries the quarterback, but he has little help. There haven’t been many people in training camp to stand up and show Kansas City they are ready to help Hali either. Thus, this may continue to be a major weak spot in Kansas City.
Many Kansas City fans were in an uproar when Thomas Jones was listed as the starter on the camp depth chart. Jamaal Charles looked like the league’s next star running back when he finished with 1,120 yards last season after becoming the starter at midseason. Jones was signed as a free agent this offseason to complement Charles and to keep him fresh. Still, having Jones at the top of the depth chart was an indication that Charles could be buried. Don’t worry about it, though. Despite the surprising depth-chart look, Charles will get plenty of carries. This should be a dynamite pair.
“I really like where this running game is going,” Cassel said. “A good running game is a quarterback’s best friend and I think it can really help us.”
One of the reasons the Kansas City front seven has yet to establish itself is the lack of impact made by the team’s last two first-round picks. That can be a killer to the team. Glenn Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 and Tyson Jackson was the No. 3 overall pick last year. Both are starters, but neither player has had a major impact. These are supposed to be cornerstone players. If Dorsey doesn’t get it in his third season, when will he?
The Chiefs’ rookie class has the camp buzzing. Safeties Eric Berry (first round) and Kendrick Lewis (fifth), running back/receiver Dexter McCluster (second), cornerback/returner Javier Arenas (second) and tight end Tony Moeaki (third) have all stood out. Each of those players has a chance to make major contributions right away. This has a chance to be a dynamic group.
After spending much of last season in Haley’s doghouse, linebacker Derrick Johnson is still not working with the first team. Still, Johnson is too talented not to have a role on this team.
This has been a physical camp. Of the team’s 27 camp practices, 25 have been in pads. There’s no doubt Haley wants to make this one of the most physical teams in the league.
Receiver Dwayne Bowe looks to be in decent shape. Bowe has had his issues under Haley, but he seems to be working fairly hard as he is about to enter a pivotal season in his career.
Keep an eye on defensive tackle Derek Lokey. He could play a big role.
Backup quarterback Brodie Croyle had looked pretty good in camp before suffering an arm injury. It wouldn’t be a shock if there is some interest from other teams in the former starter if he can return to health fairly soon.
The Kansas City offensive line is improved, but right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan has struggled some. It could be a problem area.
The Chiefs love the big leg of second-year kicker Ryan Succop. He missed two 53-yarders at Atlanta, but the team has no problem letting him rip on long attempts.
Restricted free-agent safety Jarrad Page is staging what is the league’s quietest holdout. Nobody seems to care, the Chiefs included. They have clearly moved on with the youngsters at safety. Page could be dumped for a low draft pick at some point.
Arenas could push third-year man Brandon Carr for some playing time at right cornerback. Arenas is good in man-to-man coverage, which the Chiefs like. Carr is more of a Cover 2 guy.
The Chiefs have practiced the Wildcat some. With players such as Charles and McCluster available to operate it, this could be a very nice occasional wrinkle for Kansas City to use.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 27ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Sure, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley would rather their Kansas City Chiefs program was further along than it is as they approach the second preseason game of their second summer at the helm.