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NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - INSIDE SLANT
When head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey took over after last season's 2-14 debacle, they didn't blow up everything in Kansas City. Make no mistake - the opening roster for the 2013 Chiefs has 26 new faces, with eight new starters - five on offense and three on defense. Still, there are 26 holdovers and 14 starters from last year remaining in the opening lineup.
However, they have not done a complete teardown of the franchise. That's been their approach since they walked into the building back in January. They evaluated the talent, found that the 2012 Chiefs were champions of underachievement, and decided to keep the better parts of what they found while filling in with new faces where there was weakness.
Neither man has used the term rebuilding. They looked, they evaluated and they decided that the quickest way to turn around the Hunt family franchise called not for a broom, but a mop and a rag to shine up the talent left for them.
"There were talented players here," said Reid. "There were multiple Pro Bowlers and while that's not the end-all and be-all it shows a respect for their talents by their peers and other coaches around the league. There wasn't any reason to sweep the locker room clean.
When a roster gets blown up, those pushing the plunger must have the patience for the losing that invariably follows when there is major locker room turnover. Reid and Dorsey understand the dynamics given their 45 combined seasons in the NFL. They know that culture does not produce winning; winning produces culture. They were part of those types of winning/cultures in Green Bay (Reid and Dorsey) and Philadelphia (Reid).
That's why their goal has been to win in 2013 and not talk in terms of creating a team that would be successful sometime down the road. They are balancing that desire with long-term growth that is often tied to young talent that needs time to develop.
There are 10 rookies on the roster; only two figure to make a big contribution immediately - starting right tackle Eric Fisher and No. 2 running back Knile Davis on offense and special teams. Among the other rookies there are question marks when it comes to the performance and health of players like tight end Travis Kelce and inside linebacker Nico Johnson. The other six rookies are about potential.
The folks that run any competent operation in the NFL are always considering the big picture of the future and the little picture of the present. They try to serve both masters; those in charge must win now, to have a chance to win in the future.
Nowhere is that better known than in Kansas City, where Reid is the team's fourth head coach in six seasons. That half-decade of upheaval began in 2008 when head coach Herm Edwards pushed hard for the Chiefs to go young, with the idea of taking their lumps and then having a youthful squad that could play together for years. He was given re-assurance by team chairman Clark Hunt, who agreed with the approach. It's one of the major reasons that nobody at Arrowhead Stadium blinked when they got the chance in '08 to trade one of the NFL's better pass rushers in Jared Allen for multiple draft choices from the Minnesota Vikings.
Edwards' team in that 2008 season went 2-14 and he did not get the opportunity to see the roster grow in experience and talent as the rug was pulled out from under him and he was fired.
As Reid and Dorsey put together their first roster in Kansas City, they had an eye on winning now, and another eye on down the road. They traded outside linebacker Edgar Jones to the Dallas Cowboys for an unknown draft choice. That move would not have been made if they were intent only on winning in 2013. Jones was a backup, but he was one of the club's better players on special teams. They traded a seven-year veteran and kept two rookies who can essentially play the same position, draft choice Mike Catapano and undrafted free agent Josh Martin. The chances of either one making a big contribution in 2013 are slim.
If they were thinking about only the future, they would not have used multiple second-round draft choices in the offseason to obtain quarterback Alex Smith. They would have shaken the NFL Draft dice and gone after a young quarterback, hoping to hit the way they did in Seattle (Russell Wilson) and Washington (Robert Griffin III).
Last year the Chiefs went nine weeks into the season before they held a lead at any time during the game. K.C. fans would simply like to see a team more competitive than that.
Reid and Dorsey want to give them more in 2013 - more victories.
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Jaguars lead the series, 6-3. The Chiefs are 1-4 playing in Jacksonville, with their only victory coming in 2001. The last time these teams met was in 2010 when the Chiefs won 42-20 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Jaguars have won four of the past six games between the teams. The most important game for the Chiefs in the series came on the final weekend of the 2006 season when a 35-30 victory over the Jags set them up to sneak into the playoffs when three other games all turned the Chiefs way.
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - NOTES, QUOTES
--As the Chiefs' roster came together to meet the NFL deadline of 53 players, it broke down to include eight players from the Carl Peterson Era, 17 players from the Scott Pioli Era and the other 27 were additions made by Andy Reid and John Dorsey. The oldest players on the team are 31-year old punter Dustin Colquitt and cornerback Dunta Robinson. They are two of just four players at 30 or older. They had five players that were 22 years old or younger.
--Even before they played their final game of the preseason, the Chiefs had made the decision that rookie free agent quarterback Tyler Bray had beaten out holdover Ricky Stanzi for the No. 3 job behind starter Alex Smith and backup Chase Daniel.
Given a chance to play for more than a half against Green Bay, Bray showed the confidence in him was well founded. Working with the No. 2 and 3 offenses against backup defenders from the Packers, he threw three touchdown passes and led the Chiefs to their biggest preseason victory in a decade, topping Green Bay 30-8.
"I'm proud of him; it was awesome," said Daniel. "He finally got a chance to play and show what he's got. We all knew what he had physically, but tonight he was on point mentally. He played a heck of a game."
--As a rookie in 2010, Tony Moeaki showed great promise at tight end, playing in 15 games and catching 47 passes for 556 yards and three touchdown grabs. Moeaki played in a manner similar to the Chiefs' previous tight end, a fellow named Tony Gonzalez.
The University of Iowa product was advanced when it came to his ability to find open areas in the pass coverage and then present himself as an easy target for the quarterback. He had one other habit at Iowa that eventually derailed his Chiefs career - injuries.
He missed the 2011 season due to a torn ACL in his left knee, returning last year and playing 15 games but struggling through the first half of the schedule. In January 2013 he had more surgery to clean up the knee and then against Pittsburgh in preseason game No. 3 he suffered a fractured shoulder. The Chiefs waived him injured and given that he was in the final season of his first NFL contract, his future is not likely to be with the Chiefs.
"It just wasn't meant to be, I guess," Moeaki said. "I really felt good coming into the season and then this (shoulder) happened. I would have liked to have done more."
--The Chiefs have an unusual combination at outside linebacker after reaching the NFL roster limit - they have a pair of rookies from the Ivy League. They drafted Mike Catapano in the seventh round out of Princeton, and after the draft they signed Josh Martin from Columbia. The Chiefs think both players have pass rushing talent that can be developed so they can make contributions in the very near future.
"We had both of those guys targeted going into the draft," said head coach Andy Reid. "John (Dorsey) really wanted to get Josh in here and he was able to make that happen. They both have the ability to rush the passer."
BY THE NUMBERS: 0-4 - That's the Chiefs' record in season openers on the road over the past 10 seasons. The last time they won the opener away from Arrowhead Stadium was in 2002 when a miracle penalty against the Browns allowed them to kick the winning field goal with time expired to win in Cleveland 40-39.
QUOTE OF NOTE: "I felt very good about Tyler and the way he performed. Does he have room to grow? Absolutely, and that's what's exciting about the whole thing. He handled what we threw at him; he executed well and had a knack for throwing the football." -- Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on rookie quarterback Tyler Bray.
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Alex Smith has a 3-2 record as a starting quarterback in his team's season opener. Smith led the 49ers to opening victories in the last two seasons, beating Seattle 33-17 in 2011 and last year beating the Packers in Green Bay, 30-22. In those two games he completed 35 of 46 passes for 335 yards with two touchdown passes and a touchdown run himself.
Smith said getting ready to face the Jacksonville defense has not been an easy task this week.
"It's tough because there is limited film," Smith said. "There are those four preseason games and then it goes back to are they showing everything or not? We are trying to prepare ourselves for everything and we are trying to be prepared for some in-game adjustments because they are going to do some things they didn't show in the pre-season and we are going to have to adjust to those as well."
--ILB Derrick Johnson is the most veteran of Chiefs, entering his ninth season with the franchise after being selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Johnson has now had five head coaches and three general managers in his time with the team, along with five defensive coordinators. As another season begins, he's comfortable in the role that's been thrust upon him.
"When you have been here as long as I have you are going to be in a leadership role and I'm comfortable with that," Johnson said. "I have a lot of confidence in this team going into the 2013 season, but come Sunday in Jacksonville we have to be on, we have to flip that switch. It's a whole different deal from the last six weeks and we must understand that."
--DE Allen Bailey has missed two practices in the preparation week for facing Jacksonville in the season opener. Bailey has been excused to take care of a personal issue. He enters the game as one of the defensive front's pass rushers in the Chiefs' nickel and dime defensive schemes.
--RG Jon Asamoah did not practice with the Chiefs on Wednesday and his status remains very questionable for Sunday's game in Jacksonville. Asamoah suffered a calf injury early in the preseason game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 24. He has not practiced or played since then.
--ILB Nico Johnson participated in his first practice since suffering a high ankle sprain Aug. 24. Johnson did not take part in all of his usual defensive snaps, but he worked through position drills and some scout team work.
--DB Sanders Commings was placed on the injured-reserve list/designated for return on Tuesday. He suffered a broken clavicle on July 24 during the rookie opening of training camp. He has not practiced since and will not be allowed to practice until after Game No. 6 of the regular season.
GAME PLAN: the Chiefs showed a lot on defense and very little on offense as they worked their way through the preseason schedule. Both parts of the team need improved performance, although the defense was ahead of the offense from the first day of training camp. In many ways for the Chiefs facing the Jaguars, also a 2-14 team last season is the perfect way to start the season because Jacksonville does not present an overwhelming challenge in any facet of the game. But then, neither do the Chiefs.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chiefs KR Quintin Demps or Knile Davis vs. Jaguars K Josh Scobee - the Chiefs special teams were nothing short of sensational in the preseason under coordinator Dave Toub and they've been preparing and gearing up for the opener over several weeks. Both Demps and Davis returned kickoffs for touchdowns, and both started their returns in the end zone. In fact, Davis was nine yards deep. He's unlikely to bring it out in the regular season that deep, but Jacksonville will need to do a good job in coverage to win the field-position battle and that starts with Scobee. The Jaguars gave up 26 yards per return in the preseason.
Chiefs RT Eric Fisher vs. Jaguars LDE Tyson Alualu - In some fashion Fisher will also be competing against Jacksonville's rookie RT Luke Joeckel; they went 1-2 in the 2013 NFL Draft and their performance and fortunes will be tracked by everyone in the league, but especially in Kansas City. Fisher struggled at the start of camp with the move from his college position of left tackle, but he was finally playing well in his last chance of the preseason. Alualu is a former first-round draft choice himself, with 9.5 sacks over his three-year career. The Chiefs expect the Jacksonville coaching staff will expose Fisher to veteran DE Jason Babin as well in the opener. He has 55 sacks over his career in the league.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Alex Smith. Backups - Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray.
This is the position that has been completely remade by the new regime at Arrowhead Stadium. Last year, Smith was in San Francisco, Daniel in New Orleans and Bray at the University of Tennessee. Head coach Andy Reid has always liked Smith and the abilities he brings to the table and has admitted that he tried to trade with the 49ers several times to get the former No. 1 NFL draft choice to Philadelphia. Smith has quickly won over his K.C. teammates and is already the offensive leader. He's mobile and smart, and Reid believes that will limit the turnovers at that position that have plagued the Chiefs in recent seasons.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Jamaal Charles (RB) and Anthony Sherman (FB). Backups - RB Knile Davis, RB Cyrus Gray.
Given his past in Philadelphia it's no surprise Reid has what would be considered a minimum number of running backs on his first Chiefs roster. Reid loves to throw, and his backs are going to be part of that passing game. Charles has worked hard at being consistent as a pass catcher; there's no disputing his ability to run once he's holding the ball. Davis needs to improve in that area like Gray has from his rookie season in 2012 to this one. Sherman will be on the field for about 30 percent of the offensive plays and is reliable as a blocker and catcher.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Anthony Fasano. Backups - Travis Kelce, Sean McGrath.
The loss of Tony Moeaki for the season due to a fractured shoulder was a blow to the Chiefs offense. When healthy, Moeaki provided a good pass catcher with solid blocking skills. Fasano was signed from the Dolphins and will fill the starter's position. Kelce came in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft and he's been inconsistent in training camp and preseason games, plus he's had to deal with injuries. Just how waiver claim McGrath fits in with the offense remains to be seen.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery. Backups - Dexter McCluster, Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Chad Hall.
Bowe will need a big year to justify the $53 million deal he got from the Chiefs in the offseason. Avery was signed this season as a free agent and brings a speed element, but his career has been up and down because of spotty hands. The rest of the group is ordinary at best and remains the one portion of the roster that the former regime led by GM Scott Pioli and the current group led by GM John Dorsey have not solved.
OFEFNSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Branden Albert, LG Jeff Allen, C Rodney Hudson, RG Jon Asamoah, RT Eric Fisher. Backups - G/T Geoff Schwartz, G/T Donald Stephenson, C Eric Kush.
The starting group is one of the youngest in the NFL for the coming season as they go 28, 23, 24, 25, and 22 across the front from left tackle to right tackle. They are also all home grown talents, selected with premium draft choices: Albert and Fisher in the first round, Allen and Hudson in the second round and Asamoah in the third round. Important this year is experienced depth with Schwartz and Stephenson; that's something they did not start the 2012 season with and it cost them when Hudson suffered a broken leg in the third game and was done for the season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Tyson Jackson, NT Dontari Poe, RDE Mike DeVito. Backups - DE Allen Bailey, DT Anthony Toribio, DE Mike Catapano, DT Jaye Howard.
The defensive front has not been very productive for the Chiefs since they moved to the 3-4 scheme in 2009. They tend to give up too many rushing yards and provide little or no pass rush from the defensive end and nose tackle spots. Poe had a solid rookie season and has returned in better shape and will play in a defensive scheme more suited to his explosive, north-south style. Jackson took a pay cut to stay with the Chiefs and only makes any of his money back if he has a big year. DeVito was signed because of his familiarity with coordinator Bob Sutton from the Jets and his run-stopping talents. The depth is shallow.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Justin Houston, MLB Akeem Jordan, ILB Derrick Johnson, WLB Tamba Hali. Backups - ILB Nico Johnson, OLB Josh Martin, OLB Frank Zombo, OLB Dezman Moses, ILB James-Michael Johnson.
With three Pro Bowlers among the starting four, the Chiefs first linebacker group is as good as any in the league. Hali is coming off what for him was a poor season, while Houston had a breakthrough performance in 2012 and Derrick Johnson is the leader of the unit and continues to be a playmaker. Jordan will open the season as the starter at middle linebacker, but it's only a matter of time before draft choice Nico Johnson takes over. Waiver pickups Moses and James-Michael Johnson have elevated the talent on the second level at the position and will help on special teams.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Brandon Flowers, RCB Sean Smith, FS Kendrick Lewis, SS Eric Berry. Backups - CB Dunta Robinson, S Quintin Demps, S Husain Abdullah, DB Sanders Comings, CB Marcus Cooper, CB Ron Parker.
This is the defensive position that has been rebuilt by the new regime, although Flowers, Lewis and Berry are holdovers. All of the backups however, have joined the team this season, including 10-year veteran Robinson who was pegged for the nickel-back job. But he has been passed by Abdullah, who has shown good ability taking the slot receiver in coverage. Cooper and Parker were waiver claims after the roster cut to 53 and how they fit with the unit remains to be seen.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Ryan Succop, P Dustin Colquitt, LS Thomas Gafford, KOR Quintin Demps or Knile Davis, PR Dexter McCluster.
Colquitt enters the season after earning a Pro Bowl berth last year and a new contract that made him the highest paid punter in league history. Coordinator Dave Toub can't wait to use Colquitt's directional kicking ability and those left-footed knuckling punts that returners have trouble handling. Succop is solid on FGs and kickoffs; he was nine-for-nine in FGs over the preseason. Demps and Davis both had kickoff returns for touchdowns in August, but McCluster has not broken a long return off since his first NFL game in 2010 when he went 94 yards for a touchdown.