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2011 Kansas City Chiefs preseason preview

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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Todd Haley doesn't expect to decide on who will call the plays until the start of the regular season. (US Presswire)  
Todd Haley doesn't expect to decide on who will call the plays until the start of the regular season. (US Presswire)  

2010 RECORD: 10-6 (First, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Baltimore, 30-7, in AFC wild card

COACH (RECORD): Todd Haley (14-18 in two seasons with Chiefs)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bill Muir

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Romeo Crennel

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OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 1st rushing, 30th passing, 14th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 14th rushing, 17th passing, 11th scoring

KEY ADDITIONS: WR Steve Breaston (from Cardinals), WR Jonathan Baldwin (first Round, Pittsburgh), OLB Justin Houston (third round, Georgia), NT Kelly Gregg (from Ravens), FB Le'Ron McClain (from Ravens), LB Brandon Siler (from Chargers)

KEY DEPARTURES: OLB Mike Vrabel (retired), LG Brian Waters (released), DL Shaun Smith (to Titans), NT Ron Edwards (to Panthers), DB Maurice Leggett (to Lions), TE Brad Cottam (released)

AT LAST, WEAPONS FOR MATT: Before he started a game in Kansas City, QB Matt Cassel signed a six-year, $63 million contract. The Chiefs showed him the money. However, they did not provide him with the weapons to consistently produce on offense, especially at wide receiver. In the 2009 season, the receivers were a struggling Dwayne Bowe, waiver wire additions and free agent additions like Mark Bradley, Bobby Wade and Chris Chambers. Bowe led the team with 47 catches, four for TDs. Two years later, Cassel's weapons have improved dramatically in the passing game. High draft choices were used on Jonathan Baldwin (first) and Dexter McCluster (second). Free agency was tapped for Steve Breaston (from Arizona). After spending 2009 in Coach Todd Haley's doghouse for poor work habits and a lack of focus, Bowe is coming off a 72-catch, 1,162-yard year with a league-leading 15 TD catches. Add second-year TE Tony Moeaki (47 catches, 556 yards, three TDs as a rookie), plus sure-handed RB Jamaal Charles (45-468-3) and Cassel has a wealth of receiving options.

RIGHT ON THE NOSE: For a team to have any chance for success playing the 3-4 defense, the guy in the middle is the key. Without a nose tackle who can control the flow of traffic to the inside linebackers behind him, the scheme will not work properly. In its first season under coordinator Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs defense made dramatic improvements in 2010. But late in the season there were problems stopping the run, especially within the AFC West. In 10 non-division games, opponents ran for average of 81.3 yards per game. In six games in the division, the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders averaged 158.5 yards per game. The 2010 starters at NT were Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith. Both departed in free agency. The Chiefs are trying to improve production there with long-time Ravens starter Kelly Gregg. They also grabbed Mississippi giant Jerrell Powe in the '11 NFL Draft and waiver claim (from the Packers) Anthony Toribio. Gregg should start, but the front office continues to search for help at the position.

WHO IS CALLING THE PLAYS? Todd Haley took over as Chiefs head coach in February 2009. In the 30 months since, he's had four different offensive coordinators -- Chan Gailey (2009 pre-season), Haley himself (2009 regular season), Charlie Weis (2010) and now Bill Muir (2011). The question remains: Who will call plays during the game? Will it be Muir, who called most of the rushing plays in the '10 season for Weis? Will new QB coach Jim Zorn handle the duties? Or does Haley plan to handle the calls during the game? Haley doesn't expect to have an answer until the start of the regular season. "I appreciate the interest and concern, but I've been involved with teams where we didn't know who was calling plays until the first regular-season game," said Haley. "We are going to take our time and get it right." Haley, Muir, Zorn and assistant head coach Maurice Carthon have all held the offensive coordinator title during their careers.

RUNNING GAME MUST RUN MORE: The Chiefs were the best team in the NFL last year when it came to running the football, averaging 164.2 yards a game. The Chiefs were one of the worst teams in the league last year in successfully running in short-yardage situations, however. On third-down plays with two yards or fewer to convert, they finished No. 29 out of 32 teams, converting a first down on only half of 22 running plays. They averaged just 1.4 yards per carry. Hello, Le'Ron McClain. The Chiefs signed the free agent fullback from the Ravens, where he had a pair of Pro Bowl appearances (2008-09). This is where Todd Haley hopes to see his run game improved with the 6-0, 260-pound addition. McClain was always campaigning for more carries with Baltimore, but Haley has made it plain that he's a fullback and fullback only with the Chiefs. McClain will not be taking carries away from Jamaal Charles or even veteran Thomas Jones. However, he will become the team's short-yardage and goal-line runner, a spot where the Chiefs desperately need help.

FINAL WORD: One of the biggest challenges facing the Chiefs in the early 2011 season is replacing the leadership the team lost with the retirement of OLB Mike Vrabel and the release of veteran LG Brian Waters. Between them, Vrabel-Waters had a combined 392 games in the league with 25 seasons of experience, six Pro Bowls and Vrabel's three Super Bowl rings. On the field, Andy Studebaker will replace Vrabel, while Ryan Lilja has moved from right guard to left and second-year man Jon Asamoah moved into right guard. Now, they must find someone to replace them off the field. The preseason will be a formative period in that process.

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