- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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I caught up with Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley to discuss several topics concerning his team as the lockout continues.
Haley said he is hopeful his players are working out hard on their own. Haley is a big believer in the benefit of the conditioning program and he said conditioning is more important than football drills this time of year. Two years ago, when he took over the Chiefs, Haley thought his club was in poor collective shape and the team lost a massive amount of total weight. Haley said it is vital when the lockout ends and the team can get together that the players are in prime shape.
“I want these guys hungry for football,” Haley said. “I have heard a bunch of our guys are working out and I hope it rubs off on everybody.”
The impact of Jon Baldwin: The Chiefs bypassed needs on the offensive line and at pass-rusher, instead taking Pittsburgh receiver Jon Baldwin with the No. 26 pick.
Haley said he is excited about Baldwin’s potential impact. The Chiefs were lacking at receiver behind No. 1 wideout Dwayne Bowe. Haley said he thinks Baldwin should give Bowe immediate help.
“As well as we ran the ball last year, we want to build our offense with more weapons on the outside,” Haley said. “It will make us harder to defend, hopefully. The name of the game is matchups and this hopefully will create some good matchups for us. It should make Dwayne Bowe better. It should make [quarterback] Matt Cassel better, it should make [tight end] Tony Moeaki better and it should make the running game better. That’s the plan. Let’s see if Jon can come in do what we think he can do.”
Haley said Cassel is understandably excited about the chance to add the supremely athletic Baldwin to the offense.
“I don’t think Matt is ever going to turn down the chance to throw to a 6-foot-4 receiver who can jump higher than 40 inches,” Haley quipped.
McCluster on the run: Haley said he’d like to see second-year player Dexter McCluster take on a role as more of a rusher in the running game. McCluster, a second-round pick, was injured often as a rookie. He had 21 catches for 209 yards and 18 rushes for 71 yards. McCluster also was a returner.
"I think he can help us in both areas,” Haley said. “I think the better he is as a runner, the better he’ll be as a receiver and the other way around. I’d like if he can really help us in those areas.”
New defenders: Justin Houston of Georgia and Allen Bailey of Miami have a chance to earn playing time right away. Houston and Bailey were taken in the third round. Both players have a chance to play at defensive end and outside linebacker.
“We like those two players and we think they will both be capable of doing some good things,” Haley said.
A smaller Thomas Jones: Haley said he didn’t want to reveal his plans for running back Jones. But he indicated Jones, who’ll be 33 during the season, may drop a few pounds from his 220-pound frame. Haley said Jones is in supreme shape, but his carries may go down some, so he might be better off being slightly smaller
Jones had 245 carries last season and his production started to falter down the stretch. Haley said he thinks Jones will have fewer carries next year, but he still will be effective in his role.
Big time for Charles: Haley wouldn’t commit to how many carries star running back Jamaal Charles will get, but he said this is an important offseason for Charles. He said he wants Charles to take the next step and be ready for more carries if need be. Charles had 1,467 yards (the second most in the NFL) on 230 carries last season.
Hoping Wiegmann returns: Haley said he is unsure if center Casey Wiegmann will return to the team this season. Wiegmann, who’ll turn 38 in July, has been considering retirement. Haley said he hopes Wiegmann returns, adding that Wiegmann’s leadership is invaluable. If Wiegmann doesn’t return, second-round pick Rodney Hudson could be the starter.
Thrilled with Zorn: Haley raved about the addition of quarterback coach Jim Zorn.
The two coaches have known each other for years, and Haley can’t wait for Zorn to start working with the quarterbacks. Haley said he thinks Zorn will help Cassel, plus young quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi (a fifth-round pick) and third-string quarterback Tyler Palko, develop. Zorn and Palko are left-handed, and Haley thinks Zorn can be a great help.
“Jim is a special person and I’ve really enjoyed working with him this offseason,” Haley said. ”He is going to be a very big addition for our program.”