KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It's April and the Kansas City Chiefs won't get on the field for another month for their first full-squad practice session.
So, yeah, it's time for that seemingly annual internal optimism that the Chiefs will have one of the NFL's best offensive teams.
“We're going to unleash it,'' said tight end Travis Kelce, second on the Chiefs last year with 72 catches and five receiving touchdowns. “I'm confident in where our personnel is right now. Where we're headed as a team is awesome and exciting. I feel like offensively, we can definitely improve from last year.”
But is the optimism warranted? The Chiefs' main offensive acquisitions a week before the start of the draft, are a right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, and a wide receiver, Rod Streater, who caught one pass last season for the Oakland Raiders.
Whether the thoughts of improvement are realistic or not, the Chiefs may need to make offensive gains if they're going to make the playoffs for the second straight year. The Chiefs were ninth in scoring last year, but that standing was bolstered by six defensive touchdowns and a flurry of defensive takeaways that frequently gifted the offense short fields.
The Kansas City defense may be less effective this year than last. One of the Chiefs' best defensive players from last year, cornerback Sean Smith, is now with the Oakland Raiders. Another, linebacker Justin Houston, had ACL surgery in February and his availability for the season won't be determined for some time.
The Chiefs, even though they haven't been on the field as a group, are already working on improving the offensive as they gathered in Kansas City this week for the start of their offseason program.
“Trying to score more points, be more effective, be better in crunch time and even be better on third down,'' quarterback Alex Smith said. “You're looking at all of that for sure. I think giving the coaches this big amount of time before we get back absolutely has given them the time to analyze all of us as a unit, our strengths and weaknesses, as a player, our strengths and weaknesses, and I think you come back now and you're kind of getting hit over the head with it.
“What are the points we need to get better at? What were not very good at ... and why, you know? Really kind of hitting those things, getting down to it. So no question the goal is to be a better offensive unit. We've got a ton of guys coming back and I think we've added a couple new pieces. We have the draft coming up so we'll see what happens there.''
Smith returns at quarterback, and he threw all of the Chiefs' 20 touchdown passes and all but three of their completions and seven of their yards last year. Similarly, all but 15 of last year's catches and 119 of last year's receiving yards are still on Kansas City's roster.
Among players who had a rushing attempt, only backup quarterback Chase Daniel has departed. Every offensive or special teams player who scored a point for the Chiefs last year returns. The only offensive losses of note are linemen Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson, but with the signing of Schwartz the Chiefs have the depth to cover for them.
“The big thing is, more so than any other year I can remember, especially on the offensive side of the ball, is the continuity,'' Smith said. “Having a big, big chunk of the guys coming back that have been in the system for a year or multiple years and we're really kind of building off what we did last year.”
But where would the additional offense come from? Production from Kelce and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who led Kansas City with 87 receptions, 1,088 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, may not be maxed out, but the Chiefs wouldn't be wise to count on a lot more from either player.
The Chiefs are hopeful of getting more from Streater, Chris Conley, Albert Wilson and some of their other receivers. That's hardly a sure thing, either.
Then there's the return of running back Jamaal Charles, who is projected to return at full strength for the start of training camp after missing much of last season with a torn ACL. Charles, if he returns as the same player he was before the injury, gives the Chiefs a dynamic playmaker in their backfield.
None of this will prevent the Chiefs, in April at least, from believing.
“We only scratched the surface last year,'' Maclin said. “There are bigger and brighter things ahead for us.
“You go back and you look at things and [see] you left this play here and you left that play there. You [can] get more creative with ways to get guys the ball, ways to get myself the ball. Then you just get more comfortable. Me and Alex, we had a great start but we've still got room to grow, as every wide receiver-quarterback duo does."