After winning a total of 10 games the past three seasons, Kansas City needs to make major improvements.
So far, in the offseason, the Chiefs have made decent strides. There has been some talk that perhaps in the second year of the Scot Pioli-Todd Haley era, Kansas City will be poised to make a major jump and become one of the NFL’s most improved teams in 2010.
I am not sure if Kansas City is quite ready to be considered a sleeper team. However, in the early portion of the offseason, it is the most improved team in the AFC West.
Most of Kansas City’s improvements have been made on offense. Defensively, Kansas City has a lot of work to do. Still, there is time through free agency and next month’s draft. Kansas City has the No. 5 overall pick and two picks in the second round. The Chiefs have three picks in the first 50 choices and four picks in the first 66 selections. It has a chance to get much better.
The following is a look at where I believe Kansas City has made great strides this offseason and areas in which it still needs to make improvements before it can be considered a viable playoff contender.
Reasons for optimism
Better coaching: The Chiefs now have the makings of an outstanding coaching staff. Todd Haley went back to his own well and Pioli’s past by bringing in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The two worked together during New England’s dynasty years of the early 2000s. Weis and Crennel are premier coordinators and they will help the Chiefs’ young players. Weis and Crennel will help Haley immensely during practices, in the meeting rooms and on game days. Haley has raved about his new staff additions. The Chiefs will be better coached in 2010 and it should result with more victories.
Running game: Kansas City has a chance to be one of the most effective running teams in the NFL. Kansas City’s big player splash of free agency was signing Thomas Jones to a two-year deal. Jones is 31, but he is a tough runner who still appears to have plenty left in his legs. He had more than 1,400 yards rushing last season. Jones will be a complement to young star Jamaal Charles. He burst onto the scene last November after Larry Johnson was cut. Charles had 1,120 yards rushing and he had 259 yards in the season finale, an upset win at Denver. Charles is a game breaker. Jones’ presence will keep Charles fresh. The pounding style of Jones and the speed of Charles will frustrate defenses. Teams that can run and control games on the ground can win a lot of games. This is a huge boost for Kansas City.
Better offensive line: The Chiefs’ offensive line has been one of their biggest problems in recent years. Quarterback Matt Cassel, who is not mobile to begin with, was under constant pressure last year. The Chiefs have been diligently trying to improve the line this offseason. Kansas City signed center Casey Wiegmann, who was a standout from 2001-07 and was part of some terrific offensive lines in Kansas City. He has a chance to start. He will be 37, but he is still tough and he’s a pro. The Chiefs signed Ryan Lilja this week. The former Colts starter is a fine player who will team with veteran Brian Waters to make up a good guard tandem. An interior line of Wiegmann, Waters and Lilja makes Kansas City much tougher upfront.
Overall defensive needs: While Kansas City gave Weis more to work with, Crennel hasn’t gotten much help yet. Kansas City is still void of overall talent on defense. I really like cornerback Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, but there are questions on much of the unit, starting with a weak pass rush. Crennel’s staff will have to do a better job than the previous defensive staff in fitting in 4-3 players such as linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey into the 3-4 system. These players have to help. Second-year defensive end Tyson Jackson has to do a much better job in his second season as well. But the Chiefs also need more talent. It appears Kansas City will have to rely on much of the help in the draft because the current free agency crop is not overly talented. Still, it is a lot to ask for a rookie class to make a difference on an overall unit.
Offensive tackle situation: The offensive line makeover has been impressive, but there is a big need remaining. The Chiefs need a true left tackle. That is the most vital position on the line. Until the position is addressed, the line will still need help. The Chiefs can address the position very nicely with the No. 5 pick. If Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung is available when Kansas City picks, he would be a great choice. He could step right in and help this unit. Okung’s selection would allow Branden Albert, who was picked at No. 15 in 2008, to move to right tackle. Albert would likely a much better right tackle than he is a left tackle. If Okung is available and Kansas City takes him, the Chiefs’ line will be set. If not, the line will be incomplete.
Safety: The Chiefs’ safety and offensive tackle needs are connected. One will likely be addressed in the first round. The good news is there will be one less need area after the draft. But there could also be a hole. If the Chiefs don’t take Okung, they could take Tennessee safely Eric Berry. If St. Louis takes a quarterback Sam Bradford at No.1, Berry should fall to Kansas City. If Okung and Berry are both available, the Chiefs will have a tough choice. Okung may fill a greater need, but Berry could become the face of the defense. If Berry is taken, the Chiefs’ defense will get better and it could adopt a new, aggressive personality that can help this team as it continues to rebuild.