AFC West: Bob Sutton

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs allowed two long pass plays, one for a touchdown, on the Minnesota Vikings’ opening drive of last week’s preseason game. It was that drive that told defensive coordinator Bob Sutton the Chiefs are close to being ready for the start of the regular season.

Howard
Not that drive, exactly, but how the Chiefs responded to it. After the Vikings went down the field for that opening score, they managed just 74 yards and a field goal against the starting Chiefs defense over the next two quarters.

The Chiefs also scored a safety when Jaye Howard knocked the ball away from Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel and out of the end zone.

“One of the things you’re looking for that’s always a dynamic you’re never quite sure of is, what are we going to do when things go bad?’’ Sutton said. “How are we going to respond?

“This is the NFL. Things aren’t going to go the way you want them to every play, every quarter, every game. If you want to be good on defense, you have to be able to handle those swings and not lose your focus, not lose your confidence, not stay back on your heels.

The Chiefs’ defense is having its share of issues. The Chiefs have allowed several big pass plays, which was a problem for them last season. They’re trying to identify a starting inside linebacker to replace the injured Joe Mays. Two starters, safety Eric Berry and end Mike DeVito, have yet to play in the preseason because of injuries.

But the defense appears much closer than the offense to being regular-season game ready. Sutton is hopeful the defense will play well in the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against Tennessee at Arrowhead Stadium, but acknowledged he isn’t certain.

“If you’re going to be honest and frank about it, you’ll probably not know what your team is going to be like until you play [in the regular season],’’ he said.

Then he rattled off a list of players who have done well in the preseason, including Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Allen Bailey, Dontari Poe and Howard.

That made him feel better.

“Those are things we’ve been watching over the last 10 days to where we can say, ‘We’re finally inching forward to where we want to be,’ ’’ Sutton said.

 
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Alex Smith doesn't throw many interceptions. He had one of the lowest interceptions percentages in the NFL last season and even in practice generally takes good care of the ball.

Abdullah
So when free safety Husain Abdullah came away with an interception at practice on Wednesday, it was news. The interception was one of many plays made by Abdullah this offseason that give the Chiefs reason to believe they made the right decision to install him as their starter, though Sanders Commings could also still win the job.

Free safety was a huge problem for the Chiefs down the stretch last season. They allowed starter Kendrick Lewis to leave in free agency and he eventually signed with the Houston Texans.

Abdullah was a backup safety for the Chiefs last year.

"He’s done a good job," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "He did a really good job for us last year, played a lot of different roles for us. He’s a guy that has very good instincts, has really good knowledge of the whole defense so he gives us some great flexibility. He can play back, he can play up and I just think he’s going to get better and better."

The Chiefs' other safety, Eric Berry, is a Pro Bowler. The Chiefs have used him more lined up closer to the line of scrimmage but occasionally will mix things up.

"We try to play both safeties equally," Sutton said. "We don’t really have a strong and a free, so both guys have to know both jobs. But you’re really looking for guys that have a lot of range. Free safeties can do a lot of things, a lot of it goes unnoticed but you can cap off a play. A play that maybe was run or caught for 20 yards but that guy is there to stop it at 20 yards. That's a big part of being successful. Anytime you can limit the explosive players and keep them down, the better off you are.

"You're asking a lot. You've got to be a centerfielder, you've got to have good knowledge of the defense, like every team is asking out of their safeties. Those would be the main things that we'd be looking for.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's looking like the Kansas City Chiefs will bring back their coaching staff from 2013 largely intact for next season. The Chiefs lost assistant special teams coach Kevin O'Dea to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he will be the special teams coordinator.

Reid
O'Dea worked with kicker Ryan Succop and punter Dustin Colquitt. Both players are veterans and can survive without O'Dea.

There could be another defection or two but Andy Reid won't be making any changes on his own. Though it's tempting to look at how the season ended for the defense and want to make some changes involving coordinator Bob Sutton or other assistants, the Chiefs need to stay the course there.

They're trying to build something for the long term here and while the way the Chiefs finished the season on defense was disappointing, they can benefit from continuity on the coaching staff. This was just Season 1 of the Reid era and the expectation is that things will get better next season and beyond.

If it doesn't, that's a better time for Reid to shuffle the staff. But this is a time for cooler heads to prevail and it's a good thing Reid isn't acting emotionally.

"The one advantage I have is I'm with these guys all day every day," Reid said this week on Kansas City radio station 810 WHB this week. "I get to evaluate them every day and watch them work every day.

"Do we need to improve? Absolutely. We've got to get better, starting with me. We're not shooting for just making the playoffs. We're trying to be the best."
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Bob Sutton

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This fact surely won't escape Andy Reid and his coaching staff as they do their autopsy of the Kansas City Chiefs' 2013 season. It better not, because figuring it out could hold the key to their 2014 season.

Here it is: The Chiefs were 11-0 against quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell, Jeff Tuel, Robert Griffin III and Matt McGloin. They were 0-6 against Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck.

There's no shame in losing to those guys if you don't lose to them all the time. But an 0-6 record against those quarterbacks, all of whom are still playing this weekend, says a lot about where the Chiefs are right now.

They're good enough to get to the playoffs, but not good enough to do anything once they get there.

Go ahead, if you want, and toss out one of the San Diego games, the woulda-shoulda-coulda game at the end of the regular season when the Chiefs sat many of their starters. Even counting that game, the Chiefs turned four of those games into high-scoring affairs, scoring 38 and 24 against the Chargers, 28 against the Broncos in Kansas City and 44 against the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday.

They got the job done in none of those games. The Chiefs have far too many good defensive players to lose games when they're scoring like that, no matter the opposing quarterback.

Something stinks here and it isn't easy to trace the smell. It is too simple to blame defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. This thing has to run deeper than that.

But it's incumbent on Reid, Sutton and rest of the staff to figure it out. The menu of quarterbacks on Kansas City's schedule next year includes Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Rivers and Peyton Manning twice each.

If they can't beat any of those quarterbacks next season, the Chiefs will be sitting out the postseason.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- According to figures compiled by Pro Football Focus, the Kansas City Chiefs had one of the NFL’s better tackling teams. The Chiefs missed 100 tackles, according to PFF, and only nine teams had better numbers.

The Chiefs would have ranked even higher had they not missed an astounding 17 tackles in their 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 22. The tackling was extremely sloppy that day and the Chiefs will have a difficult time winning Saturday’s rematch in the wild-card round in Indianapolis if it doesn’t improve greatly.

The Chiefs were able to keep eight defensive starters out of last week’s final regular-season game in San Diego and that should help improve their tackling against the Colts. The Chiefs, after a torrid start to the season, looked fatigued on defense toward the end of the season and that can be reflected in sloppy tackling.

To illustrate the point, the Chiefs had one of their better tackling games against the Chargers last week. Using mostly fresh players who had spent much of the season as backups, the Chiefs missed only three tackles.

“A lot of it is technique,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “A lot of it is anticipation. You have to be moving. I think that’s a big part of tackling. You need that and you need multiple people. If you’re making a lot of just single tackles out there, it’s going to be hard. That’s one of the objectives of offensive football is to get guys in space and we need to get as many guys out there as possible to help secure those tackles that are missed right now.

“That’s what you’re looking for because there probably are a few more missed tackles than you realize. Usually there is someone else close by that’s coming to clean it up. That’s what you really want. If you want to be good on defense, that’s what you have to have.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs should play outside linebacker Justin Houston on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium if he’s ready to go. By all appearances at practice on Thursday, Houston is preparing to play.

Houston, wearing a brace on his injured right elbow, hit the sled during an individual drill at practice, something the injury wouldn’t allow him to do last week. Houston has been getting work with the starters, also something that didn’t happen last week.

Joseph
Houston
“He’s practicing,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s in a lot of the drills. He’s worked with the first group. It’s really day to day and drill to drill, kind of.

“It’s great to see him back out there. The thing I really appreciate about Justin is that he’s practicing like he’s trying to play. That’s what we need him to do. We’ll just see where it goes. Hopefully we can get him [back]. He would be a great boost for us.’’

The Chiefs led the San Diego Chargers 14-3 in the second quarter on Nov. 24 when they lost Houston, then tied for third in the NFL with 11 sacks. For the rest of that game and for two of the three games since, the Chiefs haven’t been the same without him.

If Houston is physically ready to play, he needs to play both on Sunday against the Colts and in the final regular-season game against the Chargers in San Diego on Dec. 29. The Chiefs, at 11-3, have much to play for. They have clinched a playoff spot but can still win the AFC West and the first-round bye that would likely go along with that.

Houston also could use the work after missing 3 1/2 games.

“The first priority obviously is that we want him healthy,’’ Sutton said. “That’s not earth-shattering or anything. Obviously it’s advantageous for him if he can get back out there. It’s a benefit. The first priority is getting him 100 percent healthy. The second is getting him out there and getting him used to it. He’s got to get used to playing with a brace a little bit.’’

Chiefs might need to play some zone

November, 27, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you're looking for some statistics than portray just how bad the Kansas City Chiefs were in pass coverage last week against the San Diego Chargers, sink your teeth in these numbers: Their three top cornerbacks were targeted in coverage a total of 22 times, according to some great stats from Pro Football Focus.

Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers and Marcus Cooper allowed a total of 17 catches on those 22 passes for a total of 350 yards. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was far less effective when he threw at Chiefs players supposedly less skilled in pass coverage.

The Chargers had an astounding 228 yards after their catches. The Denver Broncos had 187 yards after the catch the week before against the Chiefs.

Blame the loss of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, if you want. That certainly didn't help the Chiefs hold off the Chargers. Blame the officials for not doing a better job of policing the pick plays, if you want. Blame defensive coordinator Bob Sutton for not adjusting better to the loss of Hali and Houston, if you want.

The Chiefs can't play the press man-to-man coverage Sutton prefers if they don't do a better job than they have the past two weeks. Is better coverage on Sunday against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium a reasonable expectation?

The probable loss of Houston and possible loss of Hali complicates the answer. But that's something Sutton needs to take a hard look at.

Smith has been a good cover cornerback for the Chiefs this season. It seems reasonable to believe he will bounce back. Flowers was miserable against Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys in an early season game but until San Diego arrived had otherwise done a nice job. The Chiefs probably have little to worry about there.

Cooper might be a problem. The rookie, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, was claimed off waivers at the start of the regular season and had been a gem for the Chiefs. His play was no small factor as the Chiefs built a 9-0 record.

He has collapsed the past two weeks to the point where his confidence must be shot. Sutton has to be wary at this point of trusting Cooper after he had two dismal games.

It's not an easy decision because the Chiefs thrived much of the season playing man-to-man coverage. But it may be time on Sunday for Sutton to change things up and play more zone coverage.

The Chiefs can hardly do that much worse than the man they've played the last couple of weeks.

Now, KC can match up with Denver WRs

November, 15, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time the Chiefs played against the Broncos, Kansas City tried to cover big Denver receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker with a pair of 5-foot-9 cornerbacks.

Brandon Flowers and Javier Arenas were often in position, but because they are a half-foot shorter than Thomas and Decker, they couldn't stop the Denver receivers. The pair combined for 14 catches, 198 yards and three touchdowns on Dec. 30, 2012, in a lopsided Chiefs defeat, 38-8.

[+] EnlargeSean Smith
AP Photo/Gary WiepertSean Smith, a 6-3 receiver who is in his first season with Kansas City, returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo in Week 9.
When new general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid joined the Chiefs in January, one of their first priorities was to look for corners who could not only look players such as Thomas and Decker in the eye, but get physical with them as well.

"The No. 1 thing in corners is coverage," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "It's just like receivers. The No. 1 thing is the ability to get open. But if you're bigger and can get open, that's even better. With corners that are bigger and can cover, that's even better."

The Chiefs signed Sean Smith as a free agent, and at 6-3, he's one of the league's tallest cornerbacks. They also claimed off waivers 6-2 rookie Marcus Cooper, who has been a find. Flowers also plays and will likely cover Denver slot receiver Wes Welker who, at 5-9, is Flowers' size.

The Chiefs are confident what happened last year against Decker and Thomas won't be repeated in Denver on Sunday night when they play against the Broncos again.

"It's going to be a tough challenge, but I feel like we've got the players to get it done," Flowers said.

Smith has been a key figure for the Chiefs all season. He has allowed them to play the press man-to-man coverage that Sutton prefers, and Smith's 100-yard interception return was the crucial play in the win against the Bills in Buffalo two weeks ago.

But it's not an oversimplification to say that when boiled to its essence, Smith was signed with the matchups against Thomas, Decker and the Broncos in mind. The teams are fighting for first place in the AFC West and meet again on Dec. 1 in Kansas City.

And there could be a third game between the teams in the postseason.

"I can see how you can look at it that way," Smith said. "But I think it's more that the Chiefs wanted to bring in some big, physical cornerbacks, some guys who can play well in all the games. It's not just about the Broncos. This team was trying to win some more games and do some big things. I'm just a small piece of that."

More accurately, he's a big piece of it.

"Sean is a huge man," Reid said. "He's the size of a linebacker, really."

Smith's length, as well as that of Cooper, could make a big difference. Given the accuracy of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who can often put the ball exactly where he wants it, having a tall cornerback could make the window very small in which he needs to fit the ball.

"It gets down to a game of contested throws," Sutton said. "You have to contest those plays. You have to challenge them."

The Chiefs pulled Cooper off waivers from the 49ers days before the start of the regular season. A former wide receiver at Rutgers, Cooper almost immediately claimed playing time by showing strong instincts, good ball awareness and excellent ball skills.

Smith and Flowers are the starters, but Cooper plays when opponents send an extra receiver on the field.

"He'll be all right," Smith said when asked how Cooper will fare against Decker and Thomas. "He's come in and worked hard and gotten better every day, so his confidence is very high right now. He's playing some good ball. This week shouldn't be any different for him. We definitely hold him to the same standards as everybody else on the defense."

It doesn't hurt Cooper that he's tall, at least in the minds of the Chiefs. Dorsey prefers bigger, taller cornerbacks. It's not a coincidence that Arenas, one of last year's starting cornerbacks, was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in the spring.

The Chiefs knew how he matched up with bigger receivers in general and Decker and Thomas in particular. Even over in Denver, Manning has noticed the change in Kansas City's secondary.

"I don't know how much height comes into play," Manning said. "Either the guys can cover or they can't cover, and these guys can cover. They're good players and they're playing well."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's much talk surrounding the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs and how it needs to be more productive if the Chiefs are to remain undefeated much longer or win the AFC West.

Bob Sutton hasn't given up on the Chiefs improving on defense. The Chiefs are at or near the top of the league defensively in several key statistical categories. Most importantly, they have allowed fewer points than any other team.

Sutton, the defensive coordinator, said he believes the Chiefs can give him even more.

“I don't think you ever start out thinking you're going to be this or you're going to be that,'' Sutton said. “It's a process where you're trying to stack these bricks. It's about finding some way to improve just a little bit (every day).

“It's a long, hard process, but I think if you can do that ... we can put all those small improvements together and that allows you to keep ascending. You're not going to make these quantum leaps, but we can edge forward.''

He's right. There's no realistic way the Chiefs can be better on defense in the fourth quarter, when they've routinely strangled opponents. They probably won't continue on their current pace for sacks. With 36, they are on pace to tie the NFL's single-season record. After facing a steady diet of backup quarterbacks, the season's final seven weeks will have them going up against, among others, Peyton Manning twice, Philip Rivers twice, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

But there are some areas where the Chiefs can be better. They have allowed 24 pass plays of 20 or more yards. A few of those are byproducts of the aggressive manner in which the Chiefs play defense and are unavoidable, but some can be traced to bad matchups or individual breakdowns.

The Chiefs are allowing exactly 5 yards per first-down play, an average that certainly can improve. The Chiefs also allow a generous 4.7 yards per rushing attempt, though that figure is bloated by some long runs by the opposing quarterback.

So, yeah, we're being picky here. But there is room for growth defensively and it's reasonable to think the Chiefs can get there.

Chiefs have many pass-rush options

October, 15, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you're a fan of what now seems like ancient history, the Kansas City Chiefs had 10 sacks in all of 2008. If you prefer your history more recent, the Chiefs sacked the opposing quarterback 27 times last season.

Either way, it's a long way to 2013. The Chiefs lead the league in sacks with 31 and they are on a pace to break the NFL record of 72 set by the Chicago Bears in 1984.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliJustin Houston is tied for the NFL lead with 9.5 sacks and the Chiefs lead the league with 31.
The Chiefs have a lot of ground to cover if they're to catch those Bears. Whether they get there or not, it's already been a dramatic turnaround in pass-rush fortunes.

Maybe the most interesting thing about this pass rush is that all of the key components (linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston and linemen Dontari Poe and Tyson Jackson) were in place before this season. Among the 31 sacks, all but 2.5 have been delivered by players who were with the Chiefs last season.

That speaks to the schemes brought to the Chiefs by new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

"I knew about those two (Hali and Houston)," said coach Andy Reid, who joined the Chiefs in January. "I knew they could rush the passer. Now, Dontari added into that? Somebody that can play as stout as he plays in a two-gap scheme inside and then be able to pass rush? That was another dimension I didn't expect. The push that (Tyson) Jackson gets, I didn't necessarily see that."

Houston and Hali are the engines that make the pass rush go. Houston is tied for the league lead with 9.5 and Hali is fourth with 7.5.

But even taking those two players out of the equation, the Chiefs have 14 sacks, more than many of the other NFL teams. Those sacks have been spread among eight different players. Seven different players were involved in Sunday's 10-sack game against the Oakland Raiders.

That says Sutton has a lot to choose from. Among his better options are linebacker Derrick Johnson and strong safety Eric Berry.

"I would tell you (Sutton) has a good menu to draw from," Reid said. "He had (Berry) in there. He's got a knack for that, like we had with (former Eagles safety Brian) Dawkins before. Eric Berry does the same type of thing. He's just got a nice feel for that. When you start adding in the secondary players, Akeem (Jordan) has a good feel, (Johnson) has a good feel. That's one of the better things that (Brandon) Flowers does."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are thriving with a defense that has made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. They lead the league in sacks, and almost always play tight coverage in the secondary.

There’s often a downside to that type of system: penalties. Strong pass-rushing teams generally jump offside a lot in trying to guess the snap count while those who play plenty of man-press coverage tend to pile up the holding, illegal contact and pass-interference penalties.

So maybe the most remarkable thing about Kansas City’s defense is the Chiefs, while playing with abandon, are also playing with discipline. The 4-0 Chiefs have been penalized on defense just four times. They’ve had two games with no penalties and, not coincidentally, they allowed no points to the opposing offense in one of those games and seven in the other.

The Chiefs aren’t beating themselves. In the NFL, that goes a long way.

“I can’t give you an exact percentage, but when you have a defensive penalty on a drive, the percentages of scoring go up dramatically, especially if it’s a major penalty," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “So those are big for us."

That’s all well and good, but putting it into practice is much more difficult. The Chiefs have done it. They’ve had a handful of defensive penalties, which helped their overall number.

Still, they haven’t jumped offside once. They have two holding penalties, one for illegal contact and one for grabbing the facemask of an opponent.

“We try to coach them up a little bit on who’s the officiating crew each week and what (penalties it often calls)," Sutton said. “You have to adapt to how a game is being called. If it’s tight, you’d better adjust to what’s happening."

Those are tactics all teams try. The Chiefs are successfully making them work. Discipline usually comes down to strong coaching, and this is yet another indication the Chiefs are being coached well.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- His arrival was hardly heralded as a major step for the Kansas City Chiefs. The hiring of Bob Sutton as Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator was in fact greeted in town by a lot of shrugs.

Sutton, 62, was a veteran in his field, the highlights of his career being nine seasons as the head coach at Army and 13 as an assistant for the New York Jets. But he was largely unknown in Kansas City.

No more. Sutton, with the Chiefs at 3-0 and their aggressive defense leading the way, is approaching rock star status in Kansas City. He molded a group of talented but underachieving players into what so far has been one of the best defensive teams in the league and Sutton’s hire is looking like one of coach Andy Reid’s better moves.

[+] EnlargeBob Sutton
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackBob Sutton's defense is yielding just 11.3 points per game.
“I like the scheme," Reid said, referring to the frequent blitzes that Sutton prefers. “I think he was right for this team here. The production in that system has been one of the better ones.’’

Sutton may have been anonymous among the fans when he joined the Chiefs but in his profession he has been a coveted assistant for years. Former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards once tried to hire Sutton, as did Reid when he was with the Eagles.

Both were unsuccessful because the Jets wouldn’t let him out of his New York contract.

Reid needed a veteran as defensive coordinator, a coach he could trust, because he spends so much time working with the offense. He found that in Sutton, who quickly got the players to buy into his system that was so much different than the read-and-react schemes they played under former coordinators Romeo Crennel and Gary Gibbs.

It wasn’t always easy. Roles for some veteran players changed in ways that weren’t universally popular. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali, a Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons because of his pass-rush ability, has been asked to cover receivers more this season.

“He’s always talking to me just to figure what’s going on with me on the field because sometimes I get frustrated because I’m dropping [into pass coverage] a lot," Hali said. "But he’s a players’ coach. He talks to everybody. He gets a feel for every player.

“The difference is having a relationship with your coordinator and having him believe in what we can do. He’s just a smart guy. He’s able to play chess with the other teams. Sometimes he might guess wrong but most of the time he’s calling it right."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are third in the league in total defense after two games, but they will get a different kind of challenge Thursday night in Philadelphia, where the Eagles and their fast-paced offense await.

Compounding the challenge is that the game will be played following a short practice week. The Chiefs did some work on the Eagles before this week to help with preparations. They’ll have to play various schemes with whatever personnel group they have on the field, which could play to their advantage given the versatility of many of their mainstay defensive players.

Johnson
“Realistically, whatever group that's out there for us, personnel-wise, is going to be out there, period,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “In their system of offense, they're not going to allow you an opportunity to substitute. We recognize that. We deal with that all the time. Just like anytime you send a group out there, you have to have flexibility in the calls, and you want to make sure that the right adjustments are made.

“It's still football, and I think one of the things you want to do is you still want to look at what the formation is. You can't just be happy that you got the call, you need to get your cleats into the ground, you need to get your eyes where they're supposed to be and you still need to be able to play. Sometimes that's harder than others, but you just have to roll with it, it's a way of life in the National Football League right now.’’

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is the player charged with getting the defensive call from the sideline and relaying it to his teammates. The defensive communication has been very good through the first two games, but Johnson said he anticipates plays when the Chiefs simply won’t have time for communication.

“You’ve got to have a lot of plays a defense goes to without a coach calling it, default plays,’’ Johnson said. “They get up to the line of scrimmage and they snap the ball. You don’t have time to listen for the calls or have them do signals and all that stuff. It’s got to be a thing where the players have to call it some of the time.

“We’ll go through it to know, if they’re in this personnel, we’ll call this or if they’re in that personnel, we’ll call that."
Three things to watch for as the Kansas City Chiefs whost the San Francisco 49ers on Friday. Kickoff at 8 pm. ET:

Smith sees his former teammates: New Kansas City starter Alex Smith faces his former team. The No. 1 overall draft pick by the 49ers in 2005, Smith slowly became a steady player for the 49ers. Young star Colin Kaepernick replaced Smith at beginning of last season. It’s the preseason, but I’d expect to see a fired-up Smith.

More return explosion? Dexter McCluster, Knile Davis and Devon Wylie all had long returns last week. Nothing can spark an offense like a great return. Let’s see if the Chiefs can make a habit of it.

First-team defense: The Chiefs’ first-team defense was outstanding at New Orleans. This group is working well under new coordinator Bob Sutton. Let see what this unit can do against another strong offense.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs and Andy Reid needed each other.

A year ago, as the Chiefs were toiling through their summer preparations, this pairing seemed more than unlikely. It appeared implausible.

The Chiefs were embarking on the Romeo Crennel era. The franchise was focused on salvaging the Scott Pioli leadership by having one of his former New England colleagues take over the coach's headset on a full-time basis after he had guided the team following Todd Haley's dismissal in December 2011. There were no thoughts of Crennel being a temporary caretaker for one of the biggest coaching names in the game. Reid was entering his 14th season in Philadelphia.

But 2012 ended up being an awful year for the Chiefs and for Reid. Change was necessary for both.

When Reid was let go by the Eagles, Kansas City owner Clark Hunt acted swiftly, turning from Pioli and Crennel to Reid. It was a bold move from the Heartland, where the Chiefs usually stay out of the national spotlight.

Hiring Reid was bold. And while technically neither Reid nor his new team has accomplished anything just yet, the fit seems right. Reid is resplendent in red. The Chiefs’ players are energized by the top-notch coaching and energy Reid has brought.

“I don’t look to the past and we can’t look to the future yet; all we got is right now,” Reid said. “And the 'right now' is pretty good. … I really like where we are and what these guys are doing.”

While it is just August, the Chiefs look nothing like the 2-14 team they were in 2012. Most teams that earn the No. 1 overall draft pick look like it the following training camp. Instead, the Chiefs look like a complete team with few holes, one that is ready to make a big move.

“We don’t even talk about 2-14 anymore,” said safety Eric Berry, one of six Pro Bowl players from what was, despite the record, a talented 2012 outfit. “We are all focused on getting better and getting coached by Coach Reid and his staff. … We can’t wait to get out here every day to see how we can get better. Everybody feels that way. We’re all so happy right now.”

THREE HOT TOPICS

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAlex Smith's smooth transition at quarterback is just one reason behind the Chiefs' bright outlook.
1. The quarterback: Thus far, the transition to Alex Smith has been a success in Kansas City. Of course, we won’t find out anything tangible until we see if he can make a difference in the regular season. But so far, Smith has taken to Reid’s coaching and shown he is the leader of this team. He has been good in training camp, and he was excellent in the first preseason game. If Smith can be the smart, mistake-free player he was in his best San Francisco days, the Chiefs can be a real contender. This team has been screaming for solid quarterback play, and it may be about to get it.

“He’s a smart guy,” Reid said of his quarterback. “He gets it. He makes it easy. He doesn’t run out of gigabytes.”

2. Finding a No. 2 receiver: There aren’t a lot of issues with this roster, but finding a solid No. 2 receiver behind star Dwayne Bowe is a focal point of this camp. Free-agent pickup Donnie Avery will likely be the guy, and he has shown he can be a capable NFL player. He can get open. The team would like to see 2011 first-round pick Jon Baldwin finally develop. He has big ability but has failed to show the consistency to be a top-of-the rotation player. The Chiefs have a varied offense, so this will not be a huge problem, but it would be beneficial if Bowe had some legitimate help opposite of him.

3. Dontari Poe: If training camp is any indication, Poe has a chance to be among the breakout players in the NFL this season. The No. 11 overall pick of the 2012 draft has been terrific. He has taken to the new coaching. The light has come on. The super-athletic Poe is getting the playbook and has been dominant at times. Nose tackle sets the tone for the defense, and it seems Poe is up to the task. To his credit, Poe made strides late in his rookie season and seems to have carried it over to his second training camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Chiefs' roster is loaded. There are not a lot of holes. Sure, the Chiefs could use a deeper group of receivers, a deeper defensive line and a few odds and ends here and there. But in today’s NFL, that is not a deep list of concerns. Add a top coach like Reid, a capable quarterback like Smith and several fine free-agent additions to a roster that featured six Pro Bowl players, and there is a lot to like about this team. This is not your average club trying to rebound from 2-14.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

There isn’t much not to like here. The worst thing Kansas City has going for it is simply rebuilding from a 2-14 season. Just how many wins can a 2-14 team expect in the first year of a new regime? The Chiefs will be much better. But what does that mean? A 7-9 season in Kansas City would signify great progress. But if the Chiefs want to make a run at the playoffs, they likely will have to go 9-7 or better. A seven-win improvement is never an easy task in the NFL.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
    AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJamaal Charles' role in the offense does not figure to be diminished considering he touched the ball eight times and scored a TD on the Chiefs' first drive of the preseason.

  • The Chiefs like their offensive line. They think they have a lot of depth. Jeff Allen, Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson give the team a lot of options.
  • The Chiefs have no remorse over using the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft on right tackle Eric Fisher. He is a natural talent who works hard and fits in with his teammates. He is a hard-hat player who just happened to be the top pick in the draft.
  • The coaching staff is pleased with the way star running back Jamaal Charles has adapted to the offense. He has embraced the chance to catch more balls out of the backfield. For anyone who thought Charles’ role would be diminished because of Reid’s arrival, just look at the New Orleans game last week. Charles touched the ball on eight of the 14 plays the Chiefs’ first-team offense was on the field.
  • Players love the scheme of new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. It is aggressive and player-friendly.
  • One of the strengths of this team going into camp was the defensive backfield. It continues to be. This is a deep, talented unit.
  • One young player to keep an eye is undrafted rookie receiver Rico Richardson. He is catching everything that comes his way. He's a long shot, but there could be room for him.
  • Reid is pleased with the addition of spread game analyst Brad Childress and consultant Chris Ault. They are focusing on the pistol offense and working with both the offense and defense in installing it.
  • The Chiefs’ special teams look good. The return game was fantastic against New Orleans.
  • Berry came on strong at the end of last season after missing virtually all of the 2011 season with a torn ACL, and he looks to be in top form this camp. Expect a brilliant season from this young star.
  • The team likes the work of fullback Anthony Sherman, who was acquired in a deal with Arizona for cornerback Javier Arenas. Sherman will be a part of the offense.
  • Fourth-round pick Nico Johnson continues to push Akeem Jordan at inside linebacker. The instinctive, bright Johnson has been a camp standout.

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