NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - INSIDE SLANT
The Chiefs' locker room bought into Andy Reid and his program during the offseason, as the team had near perfect attendance for practices, minicamps and even strength and conditioning sessions.
Now comes the biggest part of the transition to a new head coach: training camp. The Chiefs will be at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph for three weeks and it's then that the fans and even the players will get the first taste of just what Reid has planned in this new assignment after 14 seasons in Philadelphia.
For some of the more tenured Chiefs, Reid is their fourth head coach since the 2008 season and third in the last three seasons. There has been controversy, turmoil, tragedy, organizational bickering and sabotage that were daily occurrences during Scott Pioli's reign as general manager.
Reid and new general manager John Dorsey have calmed the waters and the first six months of the new regime has been relatively quiet and built on one factor - hard work. The head coach says that's the fastest way to turning around what has been the worst stretch in Chiefs history.
"You have to work together; you have to build trust," Reid said. "I think we all know nothing good comes easy, so you have to work your tail off. You have to give up a little bit of something to get something."
And, a team has to have enough talent. That was Pioli's major downfall - his inability to significantly improve the talent level of the roster. The Chiefs may have sent six players to the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season, but only two were Pioli acquisitions - strong safety Eric Berry and outside linebacker Justin Houston.
The new regime has made a lot of changes to the roster already, with more than half of the 90-man list being additions since January. Still, the guts of the Chiefs will be inherited players, including those half-dozen Pro Bowlers from last season - linebackers Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Houston, Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and punter Dustin Colquitt. Throw in wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, tackle Branden Albert, cornerback Brandon Flowers, guard Jon Asamoah and versatile Dexter McCluster and it's not a team that needs a completely new foundation.
Offensively, Reid and first-time coordinator Doug Pederson experimented with a lot of things in the offseason, and the addition of Chris Ault, the pistol scheme developer from the University of Nevada, has falsely led folks to a conclusion that will be the Kansas City offense.
Right now, it's just another part of the toolbox for the offensive coaching staff, along with the no-huddle offense they showed through most of the spring practices.
"I think the more plays you run in a game, the better off you are," said Reid. "As long as you are fundamentally sound and you are making plays and scoring points, it's very helpful. That's not the only thing we do, but to be able to have that ability to go at different speeds I think is important. It gives us flexibility."
Beyond establishing the offense under quarterback Alex Smith, Reid and staff will be watching the defense continue to adjust to the scheme being implemented by coordinator Bob Sutton. The classic 3-4 used by Romeo Crennel was more about read and react and bend-but-don't break. Sutton's playbook is more about attacking aggressively in the pass rush and coverage.
Maybe the most important factor that must get done is in re-establishing the habit of winning around the Chiefs. In the last two seasons, they've had a 9-23 record, including last year's 2-14 that was bad enough to give them the first choice in the NFL Draft.
"The bottom line is you have to have a certain mindset, and that's work," said Reid. "You have to work hard. If you work at something and it's a competitive thing then you have to want to be first. You have to want to be the best. That's where I start. I'm not one that talks about the negative; it's just not how I'm wired. I'm coming at you and I'm going to find out what you do well, and exploit those skills. The things you aren't good at, I'm going to teach you to be better at those things. I expect the coaches to do that. I expect the players to work on those things and bring out the best in each other.
"We all have strengths and weaknesses and being a team is my strength covering up your weakness and your strength covering up my weakness."
On the hot seat: Wide receiver Jon Baldwin. Entering his third season since being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Baldwin has been a disappointment. In two seasons of inconsistent play and production, Baldwin has a total of 41 catches for 579 yards and two touchdown receptions. That's in 26 games with 10 starts. The current Chiefs regime is hoping the talents of assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley will make a difference with Baldwin and his penchant for losing focus and unable to process game situations while the game is going on. The Chiefs are not going to have an offense that throws the ball deep; they'll be more short and intermediate routes; given Baldwin's 6-4, 230-pound body, he should win the jump balls and out-muscle all the coverage.
Cause for concern: The Chiefs' offense does not have a lot of proven weapons in the passing game and the work in the offseason program for new quarterback Alex Smith was slowed by the absence of tight end Tony Moeaki and limited participation by wide receivers Dexter McCluster and Donnie Avery. Moeaki was not cleared to practice as he's still rehabbing after surgery in January on his left knee. It's the same knee where he tore his ACL and missed all of the 2011 season. Free-agent signee Anthony Fasano and draft choice Travis Kelce were getting the snaps with the first-offense in practices. McCluster (hamstring) and Avery (ankle) are considered key components to the team's offensive attack, but they got little practice time because of the injuries.
Breakthrough star: Dontari Poe, the team's first-round draft choice in 2012, had a serviceable rookie season playing in the two-gap 3-4 defense of former head coach Romeo Crennel. The change in approach with new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton may be better for Poe and the skills that he's shown. With good quickness, Poe has shown in practices the ability to quickly hit gaps and disrupt the offense. Crennel's scheme for the nose tackle was more about reading than reacting, while Sutton's approach allows more reaction.
Position battles: There are two starting spots that will see competition in training camp: left guard and the MIKE linebacker. Last season, when starting center Rodney Hudson went down with a leg injury in the third week of the season, starting left guard Ryan Lilja moved to center and second-round draft choice Jeff Allen moved into the starting spot. It proved to be a rough year for the rookie. He's trying to hold off another second-year player Donald Stephenson and free-agent signee Geoff Schwartz.
The MIKE linebacker spot is open due to the suicide of last year's starter Jovan Belcher. Over the last month of the 2012 season, Brandon Siler filled that role, but he was not re-signed. Free agent Akeem Jordan was signed after playing six seasons for the Eagles as the utility linebacker, working both outside and inside. In the fourth round of the draft, the Chiefs selected Nico Johnson, one of the leaders of the defense that pushed the University of Alabama to a second straight national championship.
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Alex Smith's offseason performance with his new team had head coach Andy Reid optimistic about getting off to a fast offensive start come training camp.
"I'm asking him to do a ton of things," Reid said. "He's handling it. We've had an interception here or there, but that's all part of this thing. You have to find out about the offense and you can't do that with your hands in your pocket. You have to go out and you have to try things and experiment. He stayed aggressive with the ball and I appreciate that."
--Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said he was pleased with the additions and changes the club has made to their roster in the last six months, but he promised that the shopping for players would not end during the team's summer hiatus.
"We'll never stop trying to add players that can help this team," Dorsey said. "That's something that trumps vacation time."
Dorsey showed his approach by getting into the mix with former Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop and former Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, even though neither landed in a red and gold uniform.
--A cousin of the late Kasandra Perkins, the woman murdered by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, was awarded custody of the couple's nine-month-old daughter, Zoey. Sophie Perkins was named primary guardian of the child over Cheryl Belcher, Jovan's mother. Jackson County, Missouri probate judge Daniel Wheeler said his decision was based on the judgment that Sophie Perkins would serve "the best interest for stable and permanent placement." A third party will handle the more than $3 million designated for Zoey Belcher in the aftermath of her mother being murdered and her father committing suicide on December 1.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Andy is obviously somebody that's had a lot of success. Watching him on the field and watching him with the players, I can see that confidence rubbing off on them, and certainly me as an owner or our family as an owner and the fans. I think you can feel that confidence as well." -- Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt talking about head coach Andy Reid.
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Alex Smith. Backups - Chase Daniel, Ricky Stanzi, Tyler Bray.
It would not have taken much for the Chiefs to improve the quarterback position over what the team saw in 2012 with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. That duo split the 16 starts last season and combined for eight touchdown passes, 20 interceptions, completions at the rate of 57.5 percent and a passer rating of 63.8. Before leaving the field last year with a concussion, Smith had a TD/INT ratio of 13/5, completing 70.2 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 104.1. Smith must now show he can perform at that level without Jim Harbaugh in his ear; instead it will be Reid, a coach with an impressive track record in dealing with quarterbacks. Smith must stay healthy - Daniel has never started an NFL game, while Stanzi and Bray have never played in a regular-season game.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Jamaal Charles, FB Anthony Sherman. Backups - Knile Davis, Shaun Draughn, Cyrus Gray, FB Toben Opurum, Jordan Roberts, FB Braden Wilson.
In his last 34 games in the Chiefs' offense, Charles has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 90 rushing yards per game. Those numbers are without 14 games in 2011 when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. Charles bounced back last year and had his most productive season (1,509 yards) and most opportunities (285 carries). In the Reid offense, more will be asked of him as a receiver, and that's an area where he's not had a lot of chances. His best season was 2010, when he caught 45 passes for 468 yards and three touchdown catches. The Chiefs would like Davis to give them another option in the offense, as he brings speed and power when healthy. How many snaps will go to the fullback position remains in question.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Anthony Fasano. Backups - Kevin Brock, Demetrius Harris, Travis Kelce, Tony Moeaki.
Reid and Dorsey have put together an interesting group of tight ends, but none of the five going to training camp has a hammerlock on the starting job. Fasano brings catching and blocking to the offense based on his previous stops in Dallas and Miami. But he's not the pass-catcher that a healthy Moeaki has shown he can be; it's just not often that he's in good health. He played 15 games last season, but struggled after coming back from a torn ACL in his left knee from 2011. Then, there was more surgery after the 2012 season and he may start training camp on the PUP list. Kelce, the draft choice out of the University of Cincinnati, can catch as well and if he shows he can block, his playing time could top every other tight end.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin. Backups - Donnie Avery, Josh Bellamy, Terrance Copper, Mardy Gilyard, Frankie Hammond, Junior Hemingway, Dexter McCluster, Jamar Newsome, Rico Richardson, Tyler Shoemaker, Devon Wylie.
Sporting a new long-term contract, Bowe did not miss a day of the offseason program and he spent as much time as possible working with Smith and developing the confidence a quarterback needs with his team's No. 1 receiver. Baldwin raised the level of his play in the team's minicamp, but one of the major questions is whether he can carry that into training camp. Avery and McCluster are set at the third and fourth receivers spot, but both were limited in offseason work because of injuries. Hemingway had a strong April-May-June and could land on the 53-man roster along with special teams standout Copper.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Branden Albert, LG Jeff Allen, C Rodney Hudson, RG Jon Asamoah, RT Eric Fisher. Backups - T Steven Baker, C-G Tommie Draheim, G Ryan Durand, C-G A.J. Hawkins, T Colin Kelly, C Eric Kush, G-T Matt Reynolds, G-T Geoff Schwartz, G-T Donald Stephenson, T Dustin Waldron.
Based on the starting lineup they showed in the offseason work, the Chiefs will have two first-round draft picks, two second-round choices and a third-round pick as the first unit. The best player in that group is Albert, and he'll play the season with the franchise-player contract. Asamoah is the budding star, as he enters his fourth season on the right side. Fisher moved right into the right tackle spot and appeared very comfortable there. The question marks will come at left guard and center. Hudson is coming back from missing 13 games last year due to a leg injury. Allen's rookie year was a tough one and he's trying to fight off veteran Geoff Schwartz and fellow second-year blocker Donald Stephenson. Reid says he's going to start the best five players.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Tyson Jackson, NT Dontari Poe, RDE Mike DeVito. Backups - DE Allen Bailey, DE Miguel Chavis, DE Marcus Dixon, DE Austen Lane, DE Rob Lohr, NT Jerrell Powe, NT Anthony Toribio.
Jackson took a pay cut to stay with the Chiefs in the last year of his five-year rookie contract. In his first four seasons he was a marginal contributor on running downs and almost no factor in the pass rush. The change in defensive scheme may suit him better - more aggression, less reads and hold the gap. Same with Poe, who had a good rookie season in 2012. DeVito brings a solid run stopper on the right side. The bench is very thin at all three positions. Waiver claim (from Jacksonville) Lane has a chance to make the team if he shows any pass-rushing ability.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Justin Houston, LILB Akeem Jordan, RILB Derrick Johnson, ROLB Tamba Hali. Backups - OLB Mike Catapano, ILB Zac Diles, ILB Darin Drakeford, ILB Nico Johnson, OLB Edgar Jones, ILB Chad Kilgore, ILB Orie Lemon, OLB Josh Martin, OLB Ridge Wilson, OLB Frank Zombo.
Hali, Houston and Derrick Johnson all went to the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season and that trio makes the linebackers the best position group on the roster. The questions going into camp will be who is going to fill the strong-side inside linebacker spot next to Derrick Johnson and who will be the backups on the outside. Last year's inside starter was the late Jovan Belcher; Jordan and rookie Nico Johnson are competing for the starting role there. On the outside, special teamers Jones and Zombo have the best chance of making the roster.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Brandon Flowers, SS Eric Berry, FS Kendrick Lewis, RCB Sean Smith. Backups - S Husain Abdullah, CB Vince Agnew, S Malcolm Bronson, CB Jalil Brown, CB Greg Castillo, CB-S Sanders Commings, S Quintin Demps, S Otha Foster, S Tysyn Hartman, CB Buddy Jackson, S Brad McDougald, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Neiko Thorpe.
Flowers, Smith and Robinson give the Chiefs a solid trio on the corner, and two-time Pro Bowler Berry is solid at strong safety. The question is whether Lewis can hold off the competition at free safety led by veteran Demps, draft choice Commings and second-year college free agent Hartman. In this year's defensive scheme, the secondary will spend more time in man-to-man coverage, especially on the corners where they'll be pressing at the line of scrimmage. Without a solid pass rush, those safeties may be very busy chasing down receivers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Ryan Succop, P Dustin Colquitt, LS Thomas Gafford, LS Brad Madison.
Before he hit the free-agent market, the Chiefs signed Colquitt to the biggest contract for a punter in NFL history. He's coming off a Pro-Bowl season and is among the league's best at directional kicking. Succop is solid but not spectacular on his kicks and kickoffs. At the top of the list for special teams coordinator Dave Toub is finding productive returners for both punts and kickoffs.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: T Branden Albert (tendered at $9.828 million; signed tender March 21).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--CB Travis Daniels (not tendered as UFA).
--S Abram Elam (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Peyton Hillis (not tendered as UFA).
--G Russ Hochstein (not tendered as UFA).
--G Ryan Lilja (not tendered as UFA).
--DB Kyle McCarthy (not tendered as ERFA).
--TE Jake O'Connell (not tendered as UFA).
--TE Martin Rucker (not tendered as RFA).
--LB Brandon Siler (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Shaun Smith (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Leon Williams (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--TE Travis Kelce (3/63): $3,126,304/4 yrs, $703,304 SB/$188,000 max RB playing time 20014-2016.
--RB Knile Davis (3/96): $2,741,000/4 yrs, $506,016 SB.
--LB Nico Johnson (4/99): $2,671,000/4 yrs, $486,000 SB.
--CB Sanford Commings (5/134): $2,400,512//4 yrs, $215,512 SB.
--C Eric Kush (6/170): $2,310,116//4 yrs, $125,116 SB.
--FB Braden Wilson (6/204): $2.263,680/4 yrs, $78,680 SB.
--LB Mike Catapano (7/207): $2,254,124/4 yrs, $69,124 SB.
DRAFT CHOICES UNSIGNED
--T Eric Fisher (1/1).
--T Branden Albert: FFA; $9.828M/1 yr.
--WR Dwayne Bowe: Potential UFA; $56M/5 yrs, $15M SB/$26M guaranteed.
--P Dustin Colquitt: Potential UFA; $18.75M/5 yrs, $8.9M guaranteed.
--LS Thomas Gafford: UFA; $715,000/1 yr.
--LB Edgar Jones: UFA; terms unknown.
--S Husain Abdullah: FA; $715,000/1 yr.
--WR Donnie Avery: UFA Colts; $8.55M/3 yrs, $2.25M SB/$2.55M guaranteed.
--QB Chase Daniel: UFA Saints; $10M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$4.8M guaranteed.
--S Quintin Demps: UFA Texans; $715,000/1 yr.
--LB Zac Diles: UFA Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Mike DeVito: UFA Jets; $12.6M/3 yrs, $6.2M guaranteed.
--TE Anthony Fasano: UFA Dolphins; $16M/4 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--WR Mardy Gilyard: FA; $555,000/1 yr.
--LB Akeem Jordan: UFA Eagles; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Austen Lane (waivers Jaguars).
--LB Orie Lemon: Not tendered as ERFA by Cowboys; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Dunta Robinson: FA Falcons; $15M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$3.95M guaranteed.
--G/T Geoff Schwartz: UFA Vikings; $630,000/1 yr.
--QB Alex Smith (trade).
--CB Sean Smith: UFA Dolphins; $18M/3 yrs, $12M guaranteed.
--LB Frank Zombo: Not tendered as RFA by Packers; terms unknown.
--TE Kevin Boss (failed physical).
--WR Steve Breaston (released).
--QB Matt Cassel (released).
--FB Patrick DiMarco (released).
--DE Glenn Dorsey: UFA 49ers; $6M/2 yrs, $2.285M SB.
--LB Cory Greenwood (released).
--TE Steve Maneri: Not tendered as ERFA/Bears; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Bryan Mattison (released).
--DE Ropati Pitoitua: UFA Titans; terms unknown.
--QB Brady Quinn: UFA Seahawks; terms unknown.
--G/C Rich Ranglin (released/non-football injury).
--LB Andy Studebaker (released).
--QB Alex Tanney (released).
--T Eric Winston (released).