Camp countdown: Chiefs on track for season of significant progress

This is the 26th in a series of team breakdowns to be published before the start of training camp.

After three seasons of a deep slumber, Kansas City appears headed for an awakening in 2010.

The Chiefs aren’t Super Bowl contenders yet, but the worst appears to be over for a franchise that had just 10 victories over the past three seasons. Certainly, they’ve run out of excuses if stuck again at the bottom of the AFC West when the ’10 season concludes.

Coach Todd Haley has had a season to learn the nuances of the job and institute his policies. With the hiring of new coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, he has veteran and trusted assistants running his offense and defense.

What’s new

Offense: Even though Weis is taking over as the coordinator from Haley, don’t look for much to change. The Chiefs will take their shots downfield, but they found an identity last year when Jamaal Charles emerged as the feature back. Kansas City will make plentiful use of Charles and free-agent pickup Thomas Jones in both the running and passing games. Jones lacks Charles’ big-play potential but is a complete and dangerous back.

The hiring of Weis and the addition of two veteran offensive linemen (right guard Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann, who will compete for the starting center spot) and two wideouts (rookie Dexter McCluster and veteran Jerheme Urban) change the picture for quarterback Matt Cassel. The Chiefs should be better around him, so he will have to improve as well. His 55-percent completion percentage needs a huge boost.

Defense: The Chiefs began their move to the 3-4 system last year, so they have already suffered through many of the growing pains. Adding Crennel as coordinator shouldn’t have much of an impact. He will tailor the game plan each week for the specific opponent more than most coordinators, so the Chiefs could have a different look from week to week.

Cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the verge of being a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the verge of being a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

The Chiefs could start two rookies at safety. They selected Eric Berry in the first round and will install him at free safety in hopes he can be the playmaker they’ve lacked. Another rookie, fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis, could start at strong safety in place of Jarrad Page, who didn’t sign his tender this offseason and requested a trade. Lewis is a physical run defender. Kansas City drafted Javier Arenas in the second round to challenge for playing time at nickel back.

Breakout player

Brandon Flowers, CB. Flowers might have had a breakout season last year had he not been troubled all season by a shoulder injury. He is a complete player with excellent coverage and ball skills. Flowers is small (5-9, 187) but is physical. He is not afraid of contact and can be a factor against the run. If Flowers makes a few more big plays, he could attract Pro Bowl consideration.

"I left some plays on the field (last year). I could have had a lot more interceptions to give the ball back to the offense, so they could score some points. You can always get better. I think I had a solid season, but I’m ready to turn it up for this season." — Flowers

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Chiefs)

"Haley had some problems as a rookie head coach last year, but hiring Weis and Crennel will help. That should stabilize things for Haley and let him concentrate on being a head coach. Their offense showed signs of life at the end of last year, and while they didn’t add any superstars to the mix I like some of the things they did there. …

"Adding Jones to their backfield gives them the ability to do a lot of different things. Urban gives them a receiver who will at least catch the ball. Lilja, if healthy, is a great addition on their line; he’s tough and he’s a winner. …

"They’ll have to be a lot better with the ball because I don’t think they did enough to improve their defense. They were way too easy to run against last year, and I don’t see how that’s changed. Crennel also will have to figure out a way to get more pressure on the passer than they did last year."

Bottom line

Although the Chiefs are at least another year away from being serious playoff contenders, this should be a season where major progress is made toward that goal. While they still are counting on a large number of developing players, the Chiefs added enough veterans to suggest they no longer are in a true rebuilding phase.

Rather than using the playoffs or any specific win total as a gauge of that progress, a better test might be improvement as the season goes along. If the Chiefs are clearly a better team in December than September and look ready to challenge for the AFC West title in 2011, this should be judged as a successful year.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Matt Cassel, Brodie Croyle
FB: Mike Cox, Tim Castille
RB: Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones
WR: Chris Chambers, Jerheme Urban
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster
TE: Leonard Pope, Tony Moeaki
LT: Branden Albert, Barry Richardson
LG: Brian Waters, Jon Asamoah
C: Rudy Niswanger, Casey Wiegmann
RG: Ryan Lilja, Ikechuku Ndukwe
RT: Ryan O’Callaghan, Barry Richardson

Defense

DE: Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee
NT: Ron Edwards, Shaun Smith
DE: Glenn Dorsey, Wallace Gilberry
OLB: Mike Vrabel, Andy Studebaker
ILB: Derrick Johnson, Corey Mays
ILB: Demorrio Williams, Jovan Belcher
OLB: Tamba Hali, Cameron Sheffield
CB: Brandon Flowers, Mike Richardson
CB: Brandon Carr, Javier Arenas
SS: Kendrick Lewis, DaJuan Morgan
FS: Eric Berry, Jon McGraw

Specialists

K: Ryan Succop
P: Dustin Colquitt
KR: Dexter McCluster
PR: Javier Arenas
LS: Thomas Gafford

This is the 26th in a series of team breakdowns to be published before the start of training camp.

After three seasons of a deep slumber, Kansas City appears headed for an awakening in 2010.

The Chiefs aren’t Super Bowl contenders yet, but the worst appears to be over for a franchise that had just 10 victories over the past three seasons. Certainly, they’ve run out of excuses if stuck again at the bottom of the AFC West when the ’10 season concludes.

Coach Todd Haley has had a season to learn the nuances of the job and institute his policies. With the hiring of new coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, he has veteran and trusted assistants running his offense and defense.

What’s new

Offense: Even though Weis is taking over as the coordinator from Haley, don’t look for much to change. The Chiefs will take their shots downfield, but they found an identity last year when Jamaal Charles emerged as the feature back. Kansas City will make plentiful use of Charles and free-agent pickup Thomas Jones in both the running and passing games. Jones lacks Charles’ big-play potential but is a complete and dangerous back.

The hiring of Weis and the addition of two veteran offensive linemen (right guard Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann, who will compete for the starting center spot) and two wideouts (rookie Dexter McCluster and veteran Jerheme Urban) change the picture for quarterback Matt Cassel. The Chiefs should be better around him, so he will have to improve as well. His 55-percent completion percentage needs a huge boost.

Defense: The Chiefs began their move to the 3-4 system last year, so they have already suffered through many of the growing pains. Adding Crennel as coordinator shouldn’t have much of an impact. He will tailor the game plan each week for the specific opponent more than most coordinators, so the Chiefs could have a different look from week to week.

Cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the verge of being a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the verge of being a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

The Chiefs could start two rookies at safety. They selected Eric Berry in the first round and will install him at free safety in hopes he can be the playmaker they’ve lacked. Another rookie, fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis, could start at strong safety in place of Jarrad Page, who didn’t sign his tender this offseason and requested a trade. Lewis is a physical run defender. Kansas City drafted Javier Arenas in the second round to challenge for playing time at nickel back.

Breakout player

Brandon Flowers, CB. Flowers might have had a breakout season last year had he not been troubled all season by a shoulder injury. He is a complete player with excellent coverage and ball skills. Flowers is small (5-9, 187) but is physical. He is not afraid of contact and can be a factor against the run. If Flowers makes a few more big plays, he could attract Pro Bowl consideration.

"I left some plays on the field (last year). I could have had a lot more interceptions to give the ball back to the offense, so they could score some points. You can always get better. I think I had a solid season, but I’m ready to turn it up for this season." — Flowers

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Chiefs)

"Haley had some problems as a rookie head coach last year, but hiring Weis and Crennel will help. That should stabilize things for Haley and let him concentrate on being a head coach. Their offense showed signs of life at the end of last year, and while they didn’t add any superstars to the mix I like some of the things they did there. …

"Adding Jones to their backfield gives them the ability to do a lot of different things. Urban gives them a receiver who will at least catch the ball. Lilja, if healthy, is a great addition on their line; he’s tough and he’s a winner. …

"They’ll have to be a lot better with the ball because I don’t think they did enough to improve their defense. They were way too easy to run against last year, and I don’t see how that’s changed. Crennel also will have to figure out a way to get more pressure on the passer than they did last year."

Bottom line

Although the Chiefs are at least another year away from being serious playoff contenders, this should be a season where major progress is made toward that goal. While they still are counting on a large number of developing players, the Chiefs added enough veterans to suggest they no longer are in a true rebuilding phase.

Rather than using the playoffs or any specific win total as a gauge of that progress, a better test might be improvement as the season goes along. If the Chiefs are clearly a better team in December than September and look ready to challenge for the AFC West title in 2011, this should be judged as a successful year.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Matt Cassel, Brodie Croyle
FB: Mike Cox, Tim Castille
RB: Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones
WR: Chris Chambers, Jerheme Urban
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster
TE: Leonard Pope, Tony Moeaki
LT: Branden Albert, Barry Richardson
LG: Brian Waters, Jon Asamoah
C: Rudy Niswanger, Casey Wiegmann
RG: Ryan Lilja, Ikechuku Ndukwe
RT: Ryan O’Callaghan, Barry Richardson

Defense

DE: Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee
NT: Ron Edwards, Shaun Smith
DE: Glenn Dorsey, Wallace Gilberry
OLB: Mike Vrabel, Andy Studebaker
ILB: Derrick Johnson, Corey Mays
ILB: Demorrio Williams, Jovan Belcher
OLB: Tamba Hali, Cameron Sheffield
CB: Brandon Flowers, Mike Richardson
CB: Brandon Carr, Javier Arenas
SS: Kendrick Lewis, DaJuan Morgan
FS: Eric Berry, Jon McGraw

Specialists

K: Ryan Succop
P: Dustin Colquitt
KR: Dexter McCluster
PR: Javier Arenas
LS: Thomas Gafford

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