Editor's note: Clark Judge, Pete Prisco and Mike Freeman are traveling to every NFL training camp and filing daily reports and analysis. Next camp report from Judge: Vikings.
RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Nobody here will say it, so I will. The Kansas City Chiefs are rebuilding.
|Herm Edwards wanted more speed and more youth, and gets big doses of both. (AP)|
The team that last year suited up veterans Kendrell Bell, Ty Law, Casey Wiegmann, Jared Allen and Priest Holmes now produces a roster with none of those names but with 30 rookies and first-year players instead -- including at least four draft picks who should start immediately.
Someone please tell me what you'd call it.
"We're ... uh ... putting some things together," said coach Herm Edwards diplomatically.
OK, I'll buy that. But how about this? They're rebuilding from the ground up. There's a new offensive line. Third-year pro Brodie Croyle is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. The secondary is young. The linebackers are fast. And the defensive line just subtracted the league's sack leader.
"They don't say they're rebuilding?" asked Allen, who had 15½ sacks last season before moving to Minnesota this spring. "Well, they should. They should've used it last year, too, because that's exactly what it was."
Ah, yes, last year. After a surprisingly strong 4-3 start, the Chiefs self-immolated, losing their final nine in a season guard Brian Waters aptly described as "awful." But it was that experience that convinced the Kansas City hierarchy that maybe, just maybe, Edwards was right when he called for the club to be overhauled, pleading for more speed and less experience.
|Out of Nowhere Man|
|Rookie CB Brandon Carr won't start when the season opens, but the expectation is he will push veteran Patrick Surtain by the fourth or fifth game. Yes, he's that good. A fifth-round draft pick, Carr is fast, instinctive, confident and intelligent. If there's a knock on him it's that he didn't play in a big-time program -- spending four seasons at Grand Valley State -- but that doesn't seem to intimidate the guy. He impressed coaches when he visited the Chiefs before the draft, and he keeps impressing them with his play on the field. Look for him to make an immediate impact.|
|Who is your Out of Nowhere Man?|
So the Chiefs did a slash-and-burn on their roster, even dealing away Allen when they realized what he would cost to keep and what he could command in return. With vice president of football operations Bill Kuharich pushing the right buttons the club aced the April draft, scoring direct hits with most of their 12 draft choices.
Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, whom the Chiefs considered the best player in the draft, was one of them. He will start. Cornerback Brandon Flowers was another. He starts, too. So will offensive lineman Branden Albert, ticketed to start at left tackle. And that's just the beginning, folks.
Everywhere you look there is youth, speed and energy. But youth means inexperience, and inexperience produces mistakes. And mistakes ... yeah, well, they can produce losses if you're not careful.
The Chiefs have no intention of being careful. They're going to roll out a slew of young players, let them gain invaluable experience and hope they gain something more -- like unexpected wins.
|One man vs. One fan|
Daytrip65: "6-8 wins and a 3rd place finish in the West. A 2nd place finish and 9 wins would be a huge step forward for this team."
Frankly, I can't see them producing more than six, but when I mentioned that to coaches and players they shook their heads. They believe they're better than that.
"I've been around some good teams here," said tight end Tony Gonzalez, "and we're not too far from that. The biggest obstacle we have to get over is believing in ourselves and realizing we are a good football team."
I disagree. The biggest obstacle the Chiefs have to get over is their inexperience, particularly at quarterback where Croyle takes the ball after six starts. The club is so sold on Croyle it didn't draft a quarterback and made no move to sign a veteran backup.
I don't know if that's risky, but I do know it's up to Croyle to prove to the Chiefs they knew what they were doing.
"I like the guy's character," said Edwards. "I really do. I mean, you talk about a tough guy. He has the ability to lead. I see it, and the players see it. He just needs to get a chance."
That's not an issue. Croyle must show that the Chiefs' faith in him is not misguided. I don't care that he didn't win any of his six starts last season. The team was a shambles, and he was learning on the fly. Heck, Eli Manning lost his first six and brother Peyton was 3-13 in his first year of starting.
Positives: Johnson is a strong, physical runner with excellent versatility, grabbing at least 30 passes in each of his last three seasons. While he seems like an old dog on the block, Johnson has only 56 NFL games under his belt (1,050 career carries and 127 career receptions). And don't forget Johnson's recent history: Two 1,700-yard rushing seasons before last year's calamity. As for his offensive line, it's still not great but the team spent a first-round pick on Branden Albert, who is expected to start the season at left tackle.
Negatives: Herman Edwards said it himself earlier this offseason: Johnson will be lucky to get 30 touches per game in 2008. A big reason for Johnson's massive outputs before last season was because the Chiefs would willingly give him a lot of work. Jamaal Charles and second-year man Kolby Smith will have small roles in the offense. Johnson's foot might be fixed, but it's a reminder that as a physical runner, he is susceptible to injury and could always miss playing time.
Outlook: Johnson might be lucky to get 30 touches per game, but he'll still get 20-plus along with work at the goal line. What more can you ask for from a Fantasy running back? That's why if you're picking ninth through 12th in your draft, Johnson is worth the pick. Just be sure to give yourself some insurance and spend a late-round pick on either Smith or Charles.
-- Dave Richard
RB: Larry Johnson (15th overall)
QB: Brodie Croyle (237th overall)
WR: Dwayne Bowe (65th overall)
TE: Tony Gonzalez (58th overall)
|2008 Fantasy Draft Prep|
What I do care about -- and what the Chiefs should, too -- is that Croyle stays healthy. He was hurt twice last year, and that has some wondering if he can endure a 16-game season.
"You just hope it's bad luck," said one player, "and nothing physiological."
The Chiefs will take no chances. That's why they hired Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator, and why Gailey will lean heavily on Larry Johnson and the club's stable of running backs. Gailey's offense is more in line with what Edwards wants to do, which is to win by running the ball, keeping the quarterback in one piece and stuffing opponents with an explosive defense.
"Brodie has to play in the right system," said Edwards, "and Chan has brought that system here where he will have the function in it and play well."
Translation: The more the Chiefs can run the less pressure there will be on Croyle. A year ago, Kansas City ranked dead last in rushing, and Croyle struggled. That was no coincidence.
So Gailey will make the Chiefs run and run and run until they get it right -- helping his quarterback, but, hopefully, helping the team, too.
"I don't believe in that 'winning ugly' stuff," said Gailey. "In 1972 the Miami Dolphins had the perfect season, but they did not play one perfect game. You win games a lot of ways; the bottom line is to win."
It won't be easy. The Chiefs play in the same division with mighty San Diego and will open with one of the league's youngest -- if not the youngest -- starting lineups. There are questions everywhere, basically because there is youth everywhere.
But that happens when you -- shhhhhhh -- rebuild.
"I've never heard that word around here," said Croyle. "That is something that has never been brought up and never will be brought up. I've always been told that rebuilding was an excuse, so I'm glad not to hear it.
"With our city there is no such thing. (Fans) want to win, and they want to win now. We may be young, but we have a lot to prove. And that's not always a bad thing."