Postcard from camp: Chiefs
The Chiefs are breaking in a new coach, GM and quarterback this season
Kansas City's defense racked up an NFL all-time-low of 10 sacks last year
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Lee Jenkins had to say about the Chiefs' camp in River Falls, Wis. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
For the 19th and final year, the Chiefs are summering in tiny River Falls, Wisc. (population 12,560), a charming hamlet where Chiefs banners hang from light-posts on Main Street and Chiefs gear is sold in storefronts of sporting goods stores. Think of the Dodgers in Vero Beach. River Falls is less than an hour from Minneapolis and less than four hours from Green Bay, but the restaurants and bars have signs out front welcoming Chiefs players, staff and fans. The team trains on the lush fields at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, cheered by road-trippers from Kansas City and locals who over the years have adopted the Chiefs as their own. Just as the Dodgers left Vero for Arizona, the Chiefs will move next summer to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., which of course makes the most sense for their hometown fans. But for Cheese League loyalists, it stings nonetheless.
1. Todd Haley is a screamer who reserves most of his wrath for wide receivers. Haley came up as a receivers coach with the Jets, Bears and Cowboys, and when he was hired as offensive coordinator in Arizona two years ago, he prodded Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin into arguably the best pass-catching duo in the NFL. Haley is now focused on Dwayne Bowe, a fearless and physical receiver who is capable of taking a Fitzgerald-sized leap, and Devard Darling, a speed demon who in five years has never quite fulfilled his potential. "Devard Darling is big, strong and fast," Haley said. "He has the skill set. He looks the part. Now he needs to start playing it. I don't want a yo-yo team, and I don't want yo-yo players." To ensure some consistency, the Chiefs signed veteran wide receiver Bobby Engram from Seattle, who will be a perfect teaching aid for Haley and an ideal model for Darling and Bowe to follow.
2. Larry Johnson claims he is content in Kansas City, but running behind the Chiefs offensive line could test his patience. The Chiefs are relying on three very veteran linemen -- Mike Goff, Damion McIntosh and Brian Waters -- all 10-year-plus veterans and seemingly past their primes. The Chiefs do have one young star on the offensive line, and fortunately for them, he is in charge of protecting new quarterback Matt Cassel's blind side. Branden Albert was a guard at the University of Virginia, switched to left tackle as a rookie last year, started on opening day despite missing the entire preseason and quickly emerged as one of the best young linemen in the league. Nimble and smart, Albert realizes there are concerns about the Chiefs' blocking, but insists he does not share them. "As a whole, we're going to get better," Albert said. "But it's easy to tell people that. We've got to prove it."
3. From 2006-2008, the Chiefs spent two first-round picks, a second-rounder and a third on defensive linemen who were geared to play a 4-3. Now the Chiefs are moving to a 3-4, and in April's draft, they spent yet another first- and third-round pick on defensive linemen. The Chiefs are trying to use all of these guys, even if some are better fits for the scheme than others. Tamba Hali and Turk McBride have switched from defensive end to linebacker. Glenn Dorsey has moved from defensive tackle to defensive end. Tank Tyler has gone from defensive tackle to nose tackle. All four linemen are being taken outside their comfort zone, an obvious risk for an organization that invested heavily in them not long ago. "You've got to adjust," Dorsey said. "If this is what they want, you've got to do it. I know it's going to be different, but I think it's going to work out."
New Face, New Place
The Chiefs made so many changes this offseason, it's surprising they kept the arrowhead. In addition to their new quarterback, new head coach, new staff and new front office led by new general manager Scott Pioli, their new defensive system prompted the acquisitions of new linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas. Vrabel and Thomas should help Hali and McBride make the transition to outside linebacker, while also showing incumbent middle linebackers Derrick Johnson and Weston Dacus some intricacies of the 3-4. Even if the Chiefs take time to learn the new defense, they desperately needed a jolt after recording only 10 sacks last year, the lowest single-season total in NFL history. "Things have changed a lot here and some guys might get stressed out about it," Dacus said. "But the majority is excited."
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