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HERM EDWARDS is surrounded by red and gold, yet all the Chiefs coach sees is orange and white. Those are the colors the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wore in 1996, when Tony Dungy took over that team and hired Edwards to oversee the secondary. The Bucs were coming off a losing season and were committed to building with young players after years of relying on veterans. They featured two first-round draft picks from '95: defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks, the foundations of a perennial playoff team and eventual Super Bowl champion.
Now Edwards is thinking about his team—how the Chiefs are coming off a 4--12 season, had two first-round draft choices and made a commitment to rebuild with youth after years of relying on veterans. "When Tony and I got to Tampa, we talked about what we were going to do: We were going to draft players and play them [soon]," Edwards says. "We were going to be positive with them, keep reinforcing what we wanted, and eventually it was going to happen. I see that with these kids."
Of the 80 Chiefs players who reported to camp this summer, 30 were in their first year, while only a dozen had six or more years' experience. That was a dramatic change from previous seasons, when the organization favored veterans even though it knew there could be a price to pay. "It was like a carton of milk [past] the expiration date," says one club official. "You try to get a couple of [extra] days from it before it goes bad."
If the personnel evaluations were right, the new roster should have years of shelf life. The Chiefs used their two first-round selections on the top defensive tackle in the draft, Glenn Dorsey of LSU, and a highly rated offensive lineman, Branden Albert of Virginia. Both are slated to start. With their 10 other selections in later rounds, the Chiefs added corner Brandon Flowers of Virginia Tech, another who's expected to start early, and several reserves who'll see significant playing time.
"You realize in this league, and in life, that if you don't stick to your plan, you really don't have a plan," Edwards says. "It's easy to set forth with a plan when you're sitting in an air-conditioned room and picking young players, and then when you show up for training camp and the work starts of preparing these guys to play, you quickly divert from that. You don't have any conviction. I think this organization has conviction."
Linebacker Derrick Johnson, entering his fourth season, is viewed as one of the team leaders. He supports the direction the Chiefs are taking. "We were 4--12 last season," he says. "We've got to do something different."
The primary goal is to establish a system in which the offense, defense and special teams complement one another. Not surprisingly, Edwards mentions the old Bucs as the model he'd like to follow. Those teams had a strong, ball-hawking defense; a powerful, chew-up-the-clock run game; and consistent special teams.
But Edwards has work to do to remake the Chiefs in that image. Third-year quarterback Brodie Croyle is in his first season as the full-time starter. The offensive line has new starters at four of the five positions, and Albert was hobbled early in camp with a sprained foot. No one has jumped out as the No. 2 receiver behind 2007 first-rounder Dwayne Bowe. At linebacker, veteran Donnie Edwards was slowed in camp by a hamstring injury, and the middle, where Napoleon Harris struggled at times last year, is a question mark. And on the defensive line, Tamba Hali moves from left end to right end in his third season in hopes of replacing the production of Jared Allen, who was traded to Minnesota after leading the league with 15 1/2 sacks.
"We look at the changes we've made as a good thing," says Croyle. "We can all grow together, and at the same time we all have something to prove—that we can play in this league, perform at a high level and win games." Just like those Bucs teams did.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH HERMAN EDWARDS (52--60 in NFL), third season with Chiefs