Well folks, it's here. Football is back. On Friday, the Kansas City Chiefs will visit the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons in their first preseason game of 2010.
With what had to be one of the more impressive offseasons in recent memory, the Chiefs, after two full weeks of a mostly smooth training camp, are finally starting to make believers out of the usual skeptics. Friday, though, will be the team's first test, and it will be GM Scott Pioli and Head Coach Todd Haley's first real opportunity to show the city and fans the progress they've made.
Progress is the operative word here. It's really all I'll be looking for Friday overall. Still, there are a few specific things I'll be looking for that will help us get a better understanding as to where this team is and what we can realistically expect when the games begin to count.
My eyes will be, for the majority of the evening, on the left tackle position. More specifically, I'll be watching Branden Albert. The Chiefs had many weaknesses in 2009, possibly none bigger than the offensive line's inability to protect the quarterback. While Pioli improved the interior line via free agency and the draft, the left tackle position, or the blind side, was left unaddressed.
There hasn't been much talk about Albert during training camp, which may be a good sign. Here's to hoping it is. Many experts are predicting the Chiefs offense to be much improved this season, but it'd be hard to imagine things getting any better without the third-year tackle taking a major step forward.
If the line can protect, the Chiefs have an opportunity to be much better in the passing game this season. It will be interesting to see, in limited play Friday, if quarterback Matt Cassel has developed better timing and chemistry with his receievers compared to 2009. Chris Chambers, whom the team picked up off waivers from the Chargers mid-last season, quickly developed into Cassel's favorite target because of the continued inconsistent play of Dwayne Bowe. Everyone knows it's now or never for Bowe. Pioli and Haley have shown rare patience with the controversial wideout. Now, to be fair, early reports from camp have shed Bowe in a positive light. It's been said, but not confirmed, that Bowe worked out with All-Pro Arizona Cardinals receiever Larry Fitzgerald this past offseason. For our and his sake, let's hope it pays off. If all we see is more of the same (bad routes, drops), don't be surprised if this ends up being his last go-round in Kansas City.
As we know, Pioli did nab speedy running back/slot receiver Dexter McCluster in the second-round of the 2010 draft. If the upcoming season goes south in a hurry, McCluster may be the only reason for Chiefs fans to continue watching late in the year. He's already become the standout fan-favorite amongst the training camp spectators in St. Joseph, and if things go according to plan, he should eventually provide Kansas City with some national star power for the first time since Jared Allen wore the red and gold. New Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis probably won't give the Chargers (the Chiefs' first regular season opponent) too much game film on McCluster, especially since it is just the first preseason game, but this will still be fun to monitor.
Another fan-favorite in camp so far has been the team's first-round pick, safety Eric Berry. Berry has impressed just about everyone so far - from the coaching staff to the fans - with the way he conducts himself on and off the field. It'd sure be nice to see him make a play Friday. It won't mean much of anything if he doesn't, but it's been a long time since we've seen an immediate return on such a high draft pick in Kansas City. Many are expecting the former Tennessee star to make an impact early for the Chiefs, but it doesn't mean much until we see it happen. The sooner Berry makes his presence known (Like during the first defensive series Friday possibly?), the better.
It's safe to assume we won't know much more about this team after Friday than we do right now. We will find out, though, just how superstitious Haley and the rest of the coaching staff is. I'm, of course, talking about whether or not the Chiefs will be wearing their white pants against the Falcons. See, throughout the 90s (otherwise known as "the glory years" in my inner-circle), the Chiefs wore all white on the road. And, as we know, the Chiefs won a lot during that time period. Then, when Dick Vermeil took over in the early 2000s, the team switched to the red pants on the road. It seemed like a fashionable enough move at the time.
Now, I believe it's time to bring back the white road pants permanently. In the past couple seasons, the team has used them for a game or two here and there, and it would immediately remind me of the glory days of the 90s when our entire city stopped everything for three hours to watch Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith and Dale Carter dominate opposing offenses. The white pants on the road could be symbolism for the tide turning in Kansas City.
Overall, the coaches, players, and fans just need something positive to take from the first preseason game. Last year, with a young roster, the team played poorly during the preseason and it carried over well into the regular season. The team is still very young this year. The fans still haven't completely bought into a complete turnaround (Word is, the Chiefs still have plenty of tickets they need to sell - to the extent that it's likely one or both of the home preseason games will be blacked out.). So a solid performance Friday - and maybe a victory - sure couldn't hurt.