Postcard from camp: Chiefs
With its seven draft picks, Kansas City may have the foundation for a turnaround
Adding Thomas Jones helps offset the Chiefs' youth with veteran leadership
Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis give K.C. prove commodities at coordinator spots
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Don Banks had to say about the Chiefs camp in St. Joseph, Mo., which he visited on Aug. 7. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Now I understand why the Chiefs decided to return to Missouri for training camp for the first time since 1990, vacating the University of Wisconsin-River Falls after 19 summers there. They drew a stadium record 10,721 fans to Saturday afternoon's intra-squad scrimmage at its new Missouri Western State University camp site in St. Joseph, Mo., about an hour north of Kansas City. Starting about 90 minutes before the scrimmage began, cars were lined up and snaking their way onto campus for as far as the eye could see. It was like something out of the final scene from the movie Field of Dreams. (If you move them, they will come).
1. I might sound at the moment like I'm drinking the Kool-Aid the Chiefs are dishing out, but I really believe we may look back at Kansas City's 2010 draft class in years to come and view it as the kind of foundation-type draft that serves as a springboard for future Chiefs success. I know, that's a mouthful. But in first-round safety Eric Berry, second-round receiver Dexter McCluster, second-round cornerback Javier Arenas, third-round guard/center Jon Asamoah, third-round tight end Tony Moeaki, and fifth-round safety Kendrick Lewis, it looks to me like the Chiefs have found six pretty good potential contributors in their seven-man draft class.
It's August, but I think Berry, McCluster, Arenas and Moeaki are going to show up, get on the field, and produce right away in 2010, and I like both Asamoah and Lewis to eventually work their way into mix. The Chiefs don't want to weigh their rookies down with too much of the burden of expectation, but there's a real sense of anticipation for what this draft class could represent in Kansas City's rebuilding program.
"I've said that exact thing a couple times,'' Chiefs second-year head coach Todd Haley admitted Saturday, when I broached the idea of this year's group as a turning point draft class. "You've got to temper that with the fact that none of these guys have done anything yet. But if all the indicators to this point that we can have about this group continue in that direction, then it'll be a pretty good group.''
If a turnaround story does unfold in Kansas City in the next two years, remember my prediction about the Chiefs' Class of 2010. If it doesn't, forget I ever said anything.
2. It's gotta be a little tough to be a rookie named "Tony'' when you're trying to play the tight end position in Kansas City, but Moeaki (pronounced MO-ee-AH-kee) has more than a few Tony Gonzalez-like skills in his game. He's big (6-foot-3, 252 pounds), can really move well, and has flashed great hands so far in Chiefs camp. He can even block, as he proved in Iowa's bowl game against Georgia Tech last year, when he manhandled Yellow Jackets star defensive end Derrick Morgan more than once. He was only available in the third round because he was a bit injury prone as a Hawkeye, but the Chiefs believe they have a steal in a guy who Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has compared favorably to former Hawkeyes tight end Dallas Clark.
"If we can keep this guy going in the direction he's going, we've got something,'' Haley said. "He's a football player now. In all areas. He's got a great feel for the game. He can catch the ball and he does things as a route runner that I've been trying to get receivers to do for 10 years.''
3. You can not over-estimate the impact free-agent running back Thomas Jones has made so far on the Chiefs, both in terms of his work ethic and leadership. He's the kind of player that gets other players to follow his example in terms of professionalism and his approach to the game, and frankly Kansas City has been in short supply of those in recent years. And after dealing with a bit of a knee issue at the start of camp, Jones is showing he still has some tread left on his tires at 31.
Last year, Chiefs new general manager Scott Pioli and Haley tried to seed their locker room with veteran leaders who could show the team's younger players how to play the game, but the impact of guys like Zach Thomas, Amani Toomer and Bobby Engram was limited because they were done and at the end of their careers. (Ex-Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel was the exception to that rule). But Kansas City had better luck this time around in signing veterans like Jones, guard Ryan Lilja, and center Casey Wiegmann, and re-signing Vrabel, and the Chiefs are hopeful that those additions will help off-set the immaturity level that has plagued the Kansas City locker room in recent years.
"Thomas Jones, he's off the charts,'' said Haley of the ex-Jet who gained a career-high 1,402 yards last season and will complement Chiefs' 1,120-yard rusher Jamaal Charles. "I've never been around somebody who's the complete package like him, and I've been around a lot of great leaders and players. The thing I'm most excited about is, on tape you saw no drop-off last year, but you always worry about that position when you get to a certain age. But when I saw him start to run in camp, I said 'this is the guy.'
"And then the leadership side. The guy is a beast. He is the real deal. Because he knows what it takes. Nobody can out work him. He's been part of turnaround teams and he's been part of success in places that hadn't had a lot of success [Bears and Jets]. And now he's got something to prove [because the Jets let him go], so it's a good combination.''
I'm going to break a postcard from camp rule here and give you two new faces: Chiefs coordinators Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennel (defense). Remember them? Used to be in New England. Won a few rings. Tried head coaching. Didn't really work out.
I can actually vouch for Crennel being back, because I saw him on the Chiefs sideline calling the defensive signals during the team's intra-squad scrimmage. But I never laid eyes on Weis, the former Notre Dame head coach, while in Chiefs camp on Saturday. He did his work during the scrimmage up in the coaches box, far removed from the media. Both Weis and Crennel have kept a very low profile so far in camp, and they're only going to talk to the media for the first time on Monday after practice.
After last year's upheaval at the coordinator slot in Kansas City -- offensive play-caller Chan Gailey was fired late in the preseason with Haley taking over, and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast got the boot after the 2009 season -- having two old hands like Weis and Crennel on the job must be comforting to the Chiefs. And if they can re-create some of their New England magic, well, that's all the better.
McCluster has created most of the buzz so far among Chiefs rookies, and it's clear that Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel loves the new toy that Pioli and Haley got him in the draft. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound former Ole Miss receiver-running back-return specialist has got some juice as they say, and look for the Chiefs to get him the ball in a variety of ways, first and foremost via the passing game. But he'll also rush a little in some sets and return kicks.
The Chiefs can't wait until teams try to go man against McCluster, because they think he'll be able to shake most any defender. His speed, wiggle, and big-play skill set adds an element to the Kansas City offense that it hasn't had for years, and I expect the Chiefs to try and take advantage of his ability to separate early and often in third-down situations, where Kansas City was dreadful last year.
I didn't see this first-hand on Saturday due to the scrimmage, but I have to relay this image from Chiefs camp. Assistant head coach Maurice Carthon has introduced a new drill during some practices this summer. It's called the Port-a-Potty drill, and here's why: A Chiefs pass-catcher goes into the portable bathroom that's on the side of one of the team's practice fields and closes the door, in full uniform, mind you.
Then, as another player yanks the door open, someone fires a pass at the player in the Port-a-Potty, who must react quickly and make the catch. It's supposed to sharpen a player's ability to concentrate on the ball despite the distraction of a defender blocking their view, or some kind of obstruction taking place.
But in the case of the Chiefs struggling offense, the unusual drill certainly seems rife for supplying your own punch line. I'm thinking of a couple right now. I'll bet you are too.
1. Improvement on defense this year in Kansas City depends a lot on if first-round 3-4 defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson can both make a jump in their third and second seasons, respectively. Dorsey made improvement in the second half of last season after first reporting to camp overweight, and now it's Jackson's turn to take the next step in his game.
It's early, but the hope is that Crennel and new Chiefs defensive line coach Anthony Pleasant can help elevate Dorsey and Jackson's games to new levels. Haley told me he saw some very real progress from both players in the scrimmage, calling it an "encouraging sign.'' Dorsey went fifth overall in 2008, and Jackson was selected third overall in 2009, and everyone knows the Chiefs simply can't miss with picks that high.
2. I liked what I saw Saturday from Chiefs first-round pick, Berry, who went fifth overall. The ex-Tennessee safety is looking solid and getting first-team reps, and he had a nice interception during the scrimmage. The Chiefs love his study habits, work ethic and intellect. Combined with the versatile Arenas and the intriguing fifth-round safety, Lewis, there's some young talent to build on in the Kansas City secondary.
3. Chiefs fourth-year receiver Dwayne Bowe is having an impressive camp so far. He came in this year in shape at 210 pounds, compared to the bloated 240 he was at the start of camp in 2009. I saw Bowe make a very nifty, toe-tapping 14-yard catch on the sideline in the scrimmage, and I think he's ready for a bounce-back season after missing five games due to a league suspension and injury last year.
4. It's all sounding rather hopeful in Kansas City these days, but the Chiefs roster still has precious little depth. Other than the running back position, where Charles and Jones figure to form a productive tandem, there's not another part of the Kansas City depth chart that goes too deep. Third place in the AFC West and anything over six wins would pass as real progress for the still-rebuilding Chiefs.
5. Just a hunch, but I think Cassel's definitely going to earn more of that big contract the Chiefs awarded him last summer just before camp. I think having Weis in his ear is going to help elevate his game quite a bit, and Kansas City's offense simply has more play-makers at its disposal with Jones, McCluster and Moeaki on hand.