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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Camp Confidential: Kansas City Chiefs

By Bill Williamson

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.”

Cassel
Matt Cassel threw for 2,924 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
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.”

Hali
Tamba Hali had 8.5 sacks in 2009, but the Chiefs need to get more of a consistent pass rush.
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.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

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.”

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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?

Berry
The Chiefs expect rookie Eric Berry to make an immediate impact in the secondary.
OBSERVATION DECK