Just like last year, when the Chiefs started the season 1–4, their first two road games will be played in prime time. Coach Dick Vermeil believes even more advantage goes to the home team in a night game. The Chiefs play two more night road games later in the season.
The Chiefs sent their second-round draft pick to the Dolphins for cornerback Patrick Surtain. Perhaps it’s a good thing the Chiefs didn't have to use that pick. They haven't had a second-round pick develop into a productive player since safety Reggie Tongue in 1996.
This year's schedule sends the Chiefs to Dallas for the first time since 1995, Buffalo for the first time since '96 and Miami for the first time since '97. The Bengals will play at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since 1993.
In fine company
Trent Green last year joined Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Dan Fouts as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons.
First down Chiefs
Kansas City set an NFL record with 398 first downs in 2004, breaking the record of 387 set by the 1984 Miami Dolphins.
The Prophecy: "Priest Holmes will once again work behind the NFL's best offensive line."
The Lie: "The bright spot of this defense can be found in the secondary."
— Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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This time, the Chiefs didn't ignore the obvious and wish away their defensive deficiencies. They confronted them head-on, acquiring at least three new starters and two more defensive players who should make significant contributions.
There's no question the Chiefs improved themselves defensively with the acquisition of three starters in linebacker Kendrell Bell, cornerback Patrick Surtain and safety Sammy Knight. Linebacker Derrick Johnson, the first-round draft pick, and end Carlos Hall will be expected to help even if they aren't starters.
But there's also no guarantee the newcomers will make enough of a difference to put the Chiefs back in the playoffs after last season's disappointing 7-9 finish. "I won't be satisfied until I see us play better," says coach Dick Vermeil, echoing the sentiments of many Chiefs fans. "That's when I'll be satisfied."
Trent Green had another big year for the Chiefs in 2004, and even though he will be 35 at the start of this season, he's showing no signs of slowing down. Green's physical abilities aren't the best in football, but he can make all the throws and is usually very accurate. He also understands the Kansas City system and what the coaches expect from him. He does well in executing their wishes.
Green has been remarkably durable since joining the Chiefs. He started all 65 games and hasn't come out of one because of injury. His string of good fortune in this area has to run out soon.
Todd Collins, the lead backup, is largely an unknown. He hasn't played in a meaningful game since joining the Chiefs in 1998.
When healthy, Priest Holmes and Tony Richardson give the Chiefs one of the NFL's best backfields. Holmes was on pace for another big season last year when it ended after eight games because of a knee injury. He's been unable to finish two of his four seasons with the Chiefs because of injuries. But if he's right, Holmes should be able to deliver the numbers the Chiefs have come to expect.
Richardson is a versatile back who gives the Chiefs a power-running alternative to the quicker Holmes. He's at his best as a blocker leading Holmes through a hole.
Larry Johnson showed in the last few games after Holmes' injury that he was worthy of being the Chiefs' top draft choice in 2003. Johnson is a different type of runner than Holmes, bigger and more powerful. But the Chiefs lose a little bit with Johnson when they run many of their favorite perimeter plays like sweeps and screens.
The signing of versatile veteran Robert Holcombe will allow the Chiefs to carry only four backs on game day. Holcombe will be a reserve at both running back spots. He may see most of his action in obvious passing situations because he's a skilled pass protector.
Starters Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton (now with the 49ers) were over 30, but the Chiefs have been unable to acquire younger players talented enough to take their places.
The Chiefs best hope to take over for Morton's production could be Samie Parker, who played well after getting some action late last season. Parker has good speed and runs well after the catch and should earn more playing time than he received last year.
Despite losing a key starter in right tackle John Tait, the Chiefs moved on without missing a beat last season. Their line, with John Welbourn plugged in to replace Tait, remained a team strength and one of the best in the NFL.
The Chiefs will move Welbourn to his more natural position of guard, where he will be a backup. The new right tackle is Jordan Black, who played well after inheriting the job late last season because of Welbourn's ailing knee. Black has the ability to move and lead open-field plays like screens and sweeps that the Chiefs prefer. Playing next to a perennial Pro Bowler, right guard Will Shields, will help.
Elsewhere, the Chiefs have no concerns. Shields and left tackle Willie Roaf had big seasons last year and should be ready to give the team at least one more good run. Left guard Brian Waters and center Casey Wiegmann are athletic players who excel in the Chiefs' system. They are good pass protectors who aren't particularly physical at the point of attack but can run and get down the field to block linebackers and defensive backs. The Chiefs are comfortable with their depth. Welbourn, whose knee responded well to additional rest, will be the first off the bench at guard.
Dependable best describes many of the players manning these starting positions for the Chiefs. Tackle Lional Dalton and ends Eric Hicks and Jared Allen all had solid seasons. Allen led the Chiefs in sacks as a rookie and should improve with an offseason in the weight room.
But improved play from the line hinges mainly on the progress of three young players. Tackle Ryan Sims has failed to live up to the potential he showed when the Chiefs made him their top pick three years ago. Sims has too much natural ability to continue to struggle, and this could be the year he becomes the anchor of the line the Chiefs envisioned him being. Last season was a learning experience for Junior Siavii, a second-round pick in 2004. Progress against the run depends on Siavii's ability to play better than he did a year ago. Hall, acquired in a trade with Tennessee, will be the first end off the bench. At only about 260 pounds, the undersized Hall isn't much of a factor in the running game but must help the Chiefs improve their rush in passing situations.
The starters at these three positions will be determined by the health of three key veterans and the ability of Johnson to make quick progress. Shawn Barber (knee), Mike Maslowski (knee) and Scott Fujita (ankle) all have injury issues that could prevent them from playing at least part of the season. That forces the Chiefs to be flexible and puts pressure on Johnson to develop rapidly.
The Chiefs drafted Johnson and signed Bell as a free agent from Pittsburgh not only to fill these voids, but also to give the team improved linebacking play. Johnson will be given a shot to win one of the starting spots on the outside while Bell will likely play the other outside spot. Both Bell and Johnson have pass rush skills, something the Chiefs lacked at linebacker in recent seasons. Kawika Mitchell will play in the middle.
The trade for Surtain and the signing of Knight should improve what was a woeful area last year. Surtain will join Eric Warfield to give the Chiefs a pair of formidable starting corners. Warfield will see more action his way with the addition of Surtain and needs to be more consistent, but Surtain is the solid cover corner the Chiefs lacked since James Hasty last played for them in 2000. Dexter McCleon will be the nickel back, a position he's best suited for.
Knight was signed from Miami to be the hitter and playmaking safety that neither of the incumbents, Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods, were last year. Knight will start at strong safety and Wesley and Woods will battle for the free safety job.
Kicker Lawrence Tynes had an up-and-down debut season, but he has a strong leg and tremendous potential. Tynes has the ability to eventually develop into one of the NFL's best. The Chiefs will give third-round draft choice Dustin Colquitt every chance to oust the incumbent punter, Nick Murphy. Colquitt should help the Chiefs improve a woeful punting game. The left-footed Colquitt's kicks also tend to be difficult for opposing returners to handle. Kendall Gammon remains, even at 36, one of the league's most reliable deep snappers.
The Chiefs won't suddenly become a defensive powerhouse even though they will have a new look. But they do have too much talent to merely flounder around the middle of the NFL pack, as they did last season. So look for the Chiefs to be a playoff contender. If they can manage a strong start against a tough early schedule, the Chiefs should be in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs all season long.