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.