Friday, July 30, 2010

Chiefs 2010 Training Camp Wish List

Between the NFL Draft and the regular season getting under way, the most anticipated date on the professional football calendar is the day training camps begin. Late Thursday evening, the Kansas City Chiefs reported to their first training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Most sports fans in Kansas City would agree that, regardless of the Royals performance (maybe), the football season could not come any sooner. So as we welcome the Chiefs' training camp with open - wide open - arms, let's take a look at some of things that need to happen in order for the team to have an opportunity for success this season.

Get Berry in camp

As of Thursday night, all of the Chiefs' draft picks have been signed except for their first-rounder, safety Eric Berry. Of the many flaws the 2009 Chiefs possessed, it's possible none was bigger than the overall play of the defense. If new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is to reverse the defense's fortunes, it will be with Berry leading the way. The Tennessee standout has been tagged as a natural-born leader and compared to the likes of Ed Reed. GM Scott Pioli needs to get a deal done. The sooner he gets on the field, the better.

D-Line must improve

Crennel was hired, more or less, to help maximize the capabilities of defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. It's certainly his main objective.

Dorsey and Jackson are both former first-round picks out of LSU who have so far failed to meet the expectations that come along with being top draft choices. While Dorsey showed some signs of improvement in his second season in 2009, Jackson was virtually non-existent throughout his whole rookie campaign. It's time to put up or shut up. The defensive line's level of success this season could mean the difference between last place or playoffs for the Chiefs in 2010.

Find the right fit for the O-Line and commit to it

This one is key. The Chiefs had success in the running game late last year mostly due to the fact that the offensive line was able to stay healthy and in turn develop some chemistry with eachother. Still, Pioli addressed the issue in free agency by signing guard Ryan Lilja and center Casey Weigmann, two former Chiefs.

It's essential the running game picks up where it left off last year. The Chiefs saw a star emerge in 2009 in Jamaal Charles and have newly acquired rusher Thomas Jones to help keep him fresh. With so many questions on defense, this team will surely have to score some points if it wants to win consistently this season. A consistent rushing attack will help keep some of the pressure off quarterback Matt Cassel. A comfortable Cassel should equate to an overall improved offensive attack.

All of this traces back to the offensive line. Whoever it may be, the Chiefs must commit to a starting five early in camp and allow them to grow together. If this happens and they can somehow stay healthy, the offense should look drastically different this year.

Solve the Page issue

A once promising young player, it seems obvious safety Jarrad Page's days as a Chief are numbered. It's clear that Page, who is one of the few current Chiefs who was acquired during the Herm Edwards regime, just doesn't fit Pioli's "right 53". He has yet to sign his free-agent tender offer and the Chiefs don't seem to mind. They drafted two players who play Page's position, Berry and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis from Ole Miss.

Either way, both sides would benefit if a solution could be found quickly. Page is doing nothing positive for his football career by sitting at home in August, and the last thing the Chiefs need is an off-the-field distraction during camp. (They have Dwayne Bowe under contract for that sort of thing.)

Re-establish the return game

One of the many aspects of the game that has been neglected since the Dick Vermeil days is the return game. It seems so long ago that the Chiefs were the most feared team in the league on kickoff and punt returns because of speedster Dante Hall. Since then, the team has consistently finished in the bottom third of the league in average starting field position for the offense. Naturally, this didn't help an already struggling offense score points last season.

Pioli definitely addressed this in the draft in April. In the second round, the Chiefs selected two college players known for their speed, running back (the plan is for him to be a slot receiver) from Ole Miss, Dexter McCluster, and Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas. While the main goals of these two players will surely be to help improve the offense and defense, respectively, there's no doubt what else the team had in mind when selecting these two. Both project as good returners; my thought is that one will return kicks and the other will return punts.

The team did use Charles on kickoffs from time to time last year, but in turn saw his effectiveness on offense drop dramatically because of overuse. It's obvious McCluster and Arenas were selected, along with the Jones signing, to help keep Charles fresh to where he can be a game-changer. If both rookies can live up their potential, the Chiefs could be a threat to score at any time during the course of a game.

. . .

This has easily been the most anticipated football season in Kansas City in recent memory. Along with that comes even more pressure for the Chiefs to have a successful training camp.

Plenty of other things certainly need to happen for the team to come out of camp and into the season feeling good about themselves. You'd like to see the team stay fairly healthy throughout the pre-season. You'd like to hope Head Coach Todd Haley can keep his cool and not let his ego get in the way when dealing with players (and coaches) during camp. One could only hope that most-to-all of the team will pass Haley's dreaded conditioning test Friday, which is a prerequisite to being able to participate in practice during camp.

And hey, we'd all like to think it's possible that at some point during camp Bowe will come to realize that the family who owns the team is the Hunts, not the Clarks.

But that's probably asking too much.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Moore Must Act Now

Another August in Kansas City is approaching. In about a week, the Chiefs first training camp in St. Joseph, MO will be underway, and baseball in this town will more or less be forgotten.

It's already become a complete afterthought. With the unexplainable 2003 season being the exception, this is actually a little late in the year for the Royals to fade from relevancy. So we know this feeling pretty well.

Just before the All-Star break, the Royals had begun to toy with us a bit by winning 10 of 13 games. Many were questioning whether the organization, who because of all the losing is a usual seller in the trade market, would forego trading some of their biggest commodities for future prospects in hopes of contending this year.

Then, manager Ned Yost proclaimed the team was very much in the race and could be in first place in as little as a week. Apparently, being a mere eight games under .500 is right where you want your ball club to be for the stretch run.

Of course, if you were paying any attention - and you probably weren't - you know by now that the Royals were swept in consecutive series on each side of the break and most of the talk about a pennant race has turned to trade rumors. Hopefully Yost has got some sleep and some of his sense back since then as well.

Look, the trade talk has been the talk all along. Anyone thinking this team is or was a contender at any point during this season is just downright insane. Don't get me wrong, picking up a few victories here and there and avoiding last place will have its value (helping to build confidence in the young guys and possibly helping persuade next year's free agent targets that the team is turning the corner). But the value is minimal.

It was more or less a blessing in disguise for GM Dayton Moore when the Royals hit their six-game skid. At that point, there was no doubt he should focus on the future and could do so without getting heat from the fans and media for giving up on the current season.

So what should Moore do? The trade deadline is July 31st, just ten days away, and the Royals have done nothing thus far, though it seems something huge is about happen. What are some options?

The biggest commodity the Royals have is OF David DeJesus. Let it be known that this blogger believes that DeJesus is the only deserving All-Star on the team currently. Take nothing away from Joakim Soria (the Royals' lone representative) or Billy Butler or whoever, but DeJesus has been a complete player this season. He leads the team in hitting, his defense has been spectacular (he plays all three outfield positions), and his overall numbers compare quite well to that of Ichiro Suzuki, who was the starting RF and lead-off hitter for the American League this year.

It has been reported that the Royals are asking for, at the very least, a major league-ready prospect as part of the package in return for DeJesus. Experts say the asking price may be too high, but Moore has that luxury. The club has an option to retain DeJesus next season for $6 million (not bad if you consider they're paying Guillen $12 a year). If they choose to go that route, then at this point next year, if the team is in a similar position (if they're still losing), Moore can shop DeJesus just like he is now.

Also, if DeJesus does become a free agent and signs elsewhere, the Royals will receive compensatory draft picks - one 1st round and the other between the 1st and 2nd rounds - in return for him, somewhat like a trade.

So Moore shouldn't feel any pressure to trade DeJesus. Really, he should feel pressured to retain him, the guy has to be the most popular player on the team.* And it's not out of the question that DeJesus could be a part of a winning future for this club. It's all up to Moore and a few of his developing prospects.

*You know what I'm talking about guys. If you're ever at the ballpark, check out the difference in tone when the crowd cheers for DeJesus coming up to bat. Women just go crazy for the guy, I don't get it.

Moore has plenty more to think about than just DeJesus, though. Kyle Farnsworth is pitching better than he ever has and is a free agent after this season. Every contending team is looking for bullpen help, so it would seem a mere certainty that his days in a Royals uniform are numbered.

Third baseman Alberto Callaspo has been mentioned in trade rumors, and this goes all the way back to spring training. It makes perfect sense given that the organization's top overall prospect, Mike Moustakas, plays the same position, and should be playing there by opening day next season.

The man that seems destined to go, though, is Guillen. Really, the closer we get to the trade deadline, the more worrisome I become that Moore is not going to trade Guillen. There really would be no excuse for this. The Royals ride with Guillen has been bumpy at best, and there's virtually no chance they'll try and bring him back past this season.

The club has Kila Ka'aihue and Alex Gordon terrorizing overmatched competition at Triple-A Omaha. Kila is ready for his first real chance to be a major leaguer - and it's been long overdue - while Gordon has transitioned to left field well is ready for a second chance to prove his worthiness of a roster spot on the big league squad.

Most importantly, though, both are vital parts to a future in which Moore has been working to build for about five years now. All Guillen is doing is blocking a roster spot for one of those players. The Royals should be willling to take on all of his remaining salary if that's what it takes to trade him. He means more off this team than on it because he can contribute nothing towards the future. If Moore fails to trade Guillen, it would be a bigger misstep than his original decision to sign him three years ago.

The only bad news we could get these next couple of weeks would be if there is no news. Moore must act now. The Royals are in the position they're in now, because past GMs, when given real opportunities to improve for the future like the one Moore has now, either weren't aggressive enough or didn't do their homework. If Moore plays his cards right, the Royals could make real progress toward contending in the near future.

If he doesn't, we'll be right back here next year, talking Chiefs football in the middle of summer.