Shortly before the start of the 2009 season, Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley fired his offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey. Then, shortly afterward, he fired Gailey's replacement.
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It doesn't take an Einstein to realize a change was needed, and with new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis the Chiefs will change. But they'll change everywhere, with a new defensive coordinator (Romeo Crennel) in another necessary move. The reason: As bad as the offense was, the defense was worse -- ranking 30th overall, 31st against the run and dead last against the pass.
With Weis and Crennel joining GM Scott Pioli in what amounts to "New England West," the Chiefs hold some of the critical elements to the Patriots' success earlier this decade. Only one problem: They're missing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Until that happens, the Chiefs will spend another season looking up at San Diego in the AFC West.
Of course, they're not alone. Two others will, too.
QB: When the Chiefs acquired Cassel and Mike Vrabel for a second-round pick it looked like a steal. The Chiefs gained a franchise quarterback to steady the ship and a veteran linebacker to mentor young players. Only Cassel wasn't what he was in New England, and that happens when you don't have Randy Moss and Wes Welker as receivers and bulldozers for offensive linemen. Cassel was little more than adequate, completing 55 percent of his passes with as many interceptions (16) as touchdown passes. The problem was his protection -- there wasn't any. He was sacked 42 times. There wasn't much of a running game, either, until Jamaal Charles took over for Larry Johnson. It's hard to get much of a read on Cassel because the rest of the team was so bad, with his receivers leading the league in dropped passes. Let's see what happens when he has time, receivers who can catch and a reasonably qualified supporting cast. Backup Brodie Croyle hasn't won a pro start and is prone to injuries, so Cassel better stay healthy.
RB: Team MVP Charles was one of the big success stories on a team where there wasn't a whole lot of success. Taking over for Johnson, Charles proved to be more than a third-down specialist. He ran for 1,120 yards in little more than half a season, averaged an astonishing 5.9 yards per carry, led the club in touchdowns and set a franchise record with 259 yards rushing in the season finale against Denver. People who questioned why the Chiefs would dump the troublesome Johnson forgot about this guy. He's a solid running back, a good pass receiver and an outstanding return man. In fact, Charles was fifth in the AFC in kickoff returns. So we establish that they have a keeper in Charles. What they didn't have was a suitable backup ... that is, until they signed free agent Thomas Jones. All he did was have a career season with the New York Jets, rushing for more than 1,400 yards and scoring 14 times. These two backs not only comprise a solid 1-2 punch; they should take some of the heat off Cassel.
WR: When you have the franchise quarterback you better get him the franchise wide receiver, and so far the Chiefs haven't. Dwayne Bowe is the best of this group, and he has had his moments. But Bowe was a disappointment last season and made it into virtually everyone's doghouse. That happens when you fall from 86 catches to 47; from over 1,000 yards to 589; and from seven touchdowns to four. Granted, part of it had to do with a four-game suspension, but part had to do with Bowe himself. He just wasn't very good, with way too many drops. In fact, at one time last season I wasn't sure Bowe would make it to the 2010 roster, but so far, so good. Chris Chambers is back to team with Bowe, and Chambers rejuvenated his career with the Chiefs last year. Still, he turns 32 in August and has never really been the impact player clubs envisioned. Jerheme Urban, who played for Haley in Arizona, was a nice pickup to help out with depth, but beyond him there's not much.
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TE: It's hard to think of the Chiefs without Tony Gonzalez, but they're working on a second season with Leonard Pope and no Gonzalez at this position. Pope was little more than adequate as Gonzalez's replacement, catching 20 passes -- or nearly 1/5th Gonzalez's total from the year before -- and producing just one touchdown. But this isn't an offense where the tight end makes a zillion catches. This is an offense where the tight end better know how to block for Charles. Backup Brad Cottam could be decent, but he barely played last year before winding up on injured reserve.
OL: The offensive line allowed too many sacks but cut down in the second half of the season and developed into a good run-blocking unit after Charles became the featured back. That is encouraging, and so is this: The Chiefs signed guard Ryan Lilja from the Indianapolis Colts, and will put him at the troubled right-guard position. Furthermore, they signed center Casey Wiegmann, once the team's starter before leaving for Denver, and now, at 37, he becomes competition for starter Rudy Niswanger. The Chiefs wanted to improve the interior of their line, and with those moves they have. Brian Waters is back at left guard and Branden Albert at left tackle, and while some believe Albert is better off at his natural guard position don't expect a move there -- not as long as Lilja and Waters are around. Albert allowed nine sacks last season, so a change at that spot is not only possible but recommended. Ryan O'Callaghan is OK as the right tackle, but he could sit down if Albert were moved to the right side to make way for a draft pick.
DL: There's a reason Clancy Pendergast didn't make it to a second season as defensive coordinator, and you can start with the defensive line. It couldn't stop anyone. First-round pick Tyson Jackson was disappointing, Glenn Dorsey completed a second straight non-productive year and nose tackle Ron Edwards was little more than ordinary. Jackson and Dorsey were top five picks, and the two combined for one sack last season. By comparison, backup Wally Gilberry had 4½, while another backup, Alex Magee, had two. Sacks were a problem for the Chiefs. They had 22, which while low was still an improvement over the 10 of 2008. There's plenty of room for help here, particularly for anyone who can rush the passer.
LB: Demorrio Williams led the team in tackles and put Derrick Johnson on the bench, so that should count for something. But so should this: He had no sacks, forced fumbles or interceptions. Wow. That's hard to do. Johnson didn't play all that much, but when he did he made the most of it. He knocked Ben Roethlisberger out of the win over Pittsburgh. He had a 70-yard interception return against Baltimore. And he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the season finale against Baltimore. He should be starting, but even when he's not he contributes. Tamba Hali made the adjustment from defensive end to outside linebacker easily and produced his best season, with a team-high 8½ sacks and four forced fumbles. He's precisely the player the Chiefs envisioned when they made him a first-round draft pick and is one of the bedrocks of this defense. Corey Mays is overmatched at the second inside position, while veteran Vrabel provides invaluable leadership outside. Andy Studebacker is a decent backup, but the Chiefs need more. Make this another area where help is needed.
DB: Cornerback Brandon Flowers was the best defensive player on the league's 32nd-ranked pass defense, so take that for what it's worth. Flowers is a solid cornerback on a club that can't stop the pass, but don't blame him. He had five interceptions and 28 passes defensed. He plays the pass well. He defends the run well. He's the best defensive back the Chiefs have, and his counterpart, Brandon Carr, isn't all that bad. In fact, he showed signs of being a keeper, and I would expect him to take another step forward this season. The Chiefs' best safety was Bernard Pollard, but, unfortunately, they cut him before the season -- so Pollard went on to have a monster year in Houston. In his place Mike Brown and Jon McGraw languished. McGraw is more of a backup anyway, and Brown was completely overmatched. DaJuan Morgan and Jarrad Page replace them, and both are coming off season-ending injuries. But what is there to lose? They have to be better than last year's tandem. The Chiefs better hope they are.