Chiefs: Love and hate

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Chiefs: Camp tour | RapidReports | Bleacher Report

ST. JOSPEH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs share the same town where the Pony Express started and Jesse James was killed, and I wish I could think of some analogy there, but I can't. I just know that if you're going to make history maybe this is a good place to be.

But the Chiefs don't need to make history. They just need to win games. They're 10-38 over the last three seasons, and that's not just bad; it's unacceptable.

Coaches and management promise changes, and this could be the season. If nothing else, I see the Chiefs as respectable again, and if that means seven or eight wins, hey, you start somewhere.

Love

  The offseason additions to the offense. Rookie sensation Dexter McCluster is an impact player who can line up anywhere. At one practice, our Rapid Reporter, Bob Gretz, counted McCluster in 13 different spots. He's a running back. He's a wide receiver. He's a slot receiver. He's a returner. He's a quarterback in the Wildcat. He's everything the Chiefs hoped ... and maybe more. But the Chiefs didn't stop there. They picked up free-agent Thomas Jones, the league's third-leading rusher, wide receiver Jerheme Urban and guard Ryan Lilja. Then they re-signed Chris Chambers. Suddenly, this looks like a team that can score, always good when you share a division with San Diego. "The coaching staff and the guys upstairs did an excellent job of bringing in some guys who seem like they can make plays when given the opportunity," Chambers said. "We've just got to feed off each other."

  Kicker Ryan Succop and punter Dustin Colquitt. With this offense, Colquitt got plenty of practice last year -- punting 96 times to tie the Raiders' Shane Lechler for most in the AFC. But look more closely: He had 41 punts downed inside the 20, second only to Ben Graham of Arizona (42), and only six touchbacks. That's a punter you want when you're talking field position. Succop has a strong and accurate leg, hitting all but four of his 29 field-goal attempts, but could use work on his kickoffs. His seven touchbacks tied him for 10th in the AFC.

  The secondary. When you play in a division with San Diego you better be able to defend the pass, and Kansas City can. They're locked in at the corners with Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr and seem set at safety with the addition of first-round draft pick Eric Berry. Now add rookie Javier Arenas, the best pass-rushing cornerback in college football last season. If the Chiefs can continue to improve a pass rush that went from 10 sacks in 2008 to 22 last season the secondary should flourish.

  The early schedule. The Chiefs draw San Diego in the season opener, which is nothing but good. Yeah, I know, the Chargers should win another division title and have beaten K.C. six of the last seven times they met. But San Diego is a historically slow starter -- never better than 2-3 in the first five games of any season under coach Norv Turner. After San Diego, the Chiefs go to Cleveland, then return home to play San Francisco, and, I don't know about you, but I can see these guys with two wins before their Oct. 3 bye.

  The return game. The Chiefs drafted McCluster and Javier Arenas in the second round, and both will revitalize a return unit that GM Scott Pioli described as "abysmal" last season. McCluster is explosive and can return punts or kickoffs. He has that right. They were 27th in punt returns and 25th in kickoff returns, which means field position was almost always a concern. McCluster is a breakaway threat who could be used on punt or kickoff returns; Arenas was the NCAA's second best return man ... ever ... and produced eight career TDs on returns, seven on punts and one on a kickoff. "Potentially great return guys," is how coach Todd Haley described them, with Haley calling Arenas "the mirror image" of McCluster. "He just plays the other side of the ball." The Chiefs not only will be better here; they could be superb.

Hate

  The Chiefs had the 31st-ranked rushing defense and produced 32 sacks the past two years. So what did they do for their front seven this offseason? Not much. They drafted defensive end-turned-linebacker Cameron Sheffield, but that wasn't until the fifth round and added free-agent defensive tackle Shaun Smith. Will it be enough? We'll see.

  I'm not sure about quarterback Matt Cassel. He has all the intangibles, but I don't know if he has the tools the Chiefs need to make a move north in the division. Cassel had as many interceptions (16) as touchdowns last season, but let's be honest: He didn't have much talent around him. Now he does, which means now we find out how good Matt Cassel can be. "I think he's an NFL starting quarterback you can win with and win championships with," Pioli said. "Matt adjusted to a lot of change, showed his competitiveness, resiliency and his ability. Beyond the mental and emotional makeup and the competitiveness, he showed the physical ability to be able to win."

  Defensive end Ty Jackson. He was the third pick of the 2009 draft but showed almost nothing last season. OK, so he had four pressures, but no sacks and no tackles for losses. Now he's a starting defensive end who needs to anchor the left side and demonstrate why he was the perfect fit for the Chiefs' 3-4.

  The age of Thomas Jones. He turns 32 later this month, and, sorry, you can count the number of productive 30-something running backs on one hand. Jones is a physical marvel and offers the leadership this club needs. But he's going to slow down sooner or later, and the actuaries say it's sooner.

  The Chiefs play in the wrong division. Sure, there are two teams they can overcome in Oakland and Denver, but San Diego hasn't moved. And it won't. They're a dead-Bolt cinch to win their fifth division title, which means the Chiefs play for second ... again.

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