With NFL teams stuck in limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Chiefs.
Top three story lines
1. The offense made great strides last season, with the running game emerging as the NFL's best and the passing attack proving to be a worthy complement. Head coach Todd Haley would like the unit to take the next step to becoming dominant, but changes at offensive coordinator could delay that from happening. Charlie Weis, who was with the Chiefs for one season, left the team in January to take the same job at the University of Florida. In his place, former offensive line coach Bill Muir will be the coordinator — the fourth person at the position since Haley became head coach. Meanwhile, former Redskins head coach Jim Zorn was hired as the team's quarterbacks coach. While the playbook is expected to remain similar, there certainly will be changes, ones that the head coach is hoping will allow the unit to make even greater strides in 2011.
2) Chiefs fans who had waited a long time to see their previous first-round picks step up and emerge as dominant players were happy in 2010, as OLB Tamba Hali (2006) and Dwayne Bowe ('07) each posted career years. Now the problem is finding complementary players for both of them. Hali's 14½ sacks led the AFC, but only one other Chief had more than three sacks. The team used a pair of third-round picks on defenders, OLB Justin Houston and DE Allen Bailey, and both will be asked to contribute to the pass rush in order to take pressure off Hali. To assist Bowe, GM Scott Pioli used the team's first-rounder on Jonathan Baldwin, a fast and physical receiver who will be called upon to make plays down the field. Both Houston and Baldwin have character concerns, but the team is banking on their on-field talent and ability to free up Hali and Bowe, respectively, will be worth the extra hassle.
3) En route to their first division title since 2003, the Chiefs won 10 games last season. Only one of those wins was against a fellow playoff team, the NFC West-champion Seahawks, who finished 7-9. Kansas City's schedule is much tougher in 2011, as it faces six playoff teams from a year ago, including all four 2010 conference championship participants (Steelers, Jets, Packers and Bears). National TV also has the Chiefs on their radar, as the team was given three night games, including back-to-back prime-time broadcasts vs. the Patriots and Steelers, a pair of games that kick off a stretch of five in a row against 2010 playoff teams. After a Week One win on "Monday Night Football" last year, the Chiefs weren't shown to a national audience until the playoff loss to the Ravens. This season, the team will play a much more prominent role nationally.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: OLB Charlie Anderson (7), RB Jackie Battle (4), CB Brandon Carr (3), RB Tim Castille (4), WR Terrance Copper (7), TE Brad Cottam (3), RB Mike Cox (3), QB Brodie Croyle (5), WR Kevin Curtis (8), CB Travis Daniels (6), DT Ron Edwards (10), DE Wallace Gilberry (3), OLB Tamba Hali (5, franchised), S Reshard Langford (1), CB Maurice Leggett (3), ILB Corey Mays (5), S Jon McGraw (9), C Rudy Niswanger (5), OT Ryan O'Callaghan (5), TE Leonard Pope (5), OT Barry Richardson (3), DT Shaun Smith (6), OLB Mike Vrabel (14), C Casey Wiegmann (15). (Editor's note: The number after a player's name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.)
Analysis: By giving Hali the franchise tag, the Chiefs have ensured they'll have their top defender for at least one more season. The team would like to lock him up with a longer contract extension, similar to what it gave ILB Derrick Johnson last season. Veteran defenders Smith, Edwards and Vrabel also could be brought back, but GM Scott Pioli addressed their positions in the draft and the team might opt to just play the younger players. On offense, the major concerns are on the line, with Niswanger, O'Callaghan and Wiegmann all hoping to retain roster spots. If they are not re-signed, adding some O-line depth, along with a veteran nose tackle, will be Pioli's top priorities. Youngsters Carr and Gilberry are both considered too important to let go at their age and cost.
2011 rookie class
First-round WR Jonathan Baldwin (No. 26 overall) — Todd Haley is a former WR coach and now he has a new project in the 6-4, 228-pound Baldwin. The Pitt product combines terrific speed and athleticism with outstanding size, but was known for not always giving maximum effort in college. The team is hopeful he will win the starting job across from Dwayne Bowe in camp.
Second-round C Rodney Hudson (No. 55 overall) — With two free-agent centers, the team opted to go young and take the best prospect at the position in the draft to man the center of the offensive line. While there are some injury concerns with Hudson, the Chiefs are expecting him to step right in and win the starting job from Day One.
Third-round OLB Justin Houston (No. 70 overall) — A pass rusher off the edge, the Chiefs are relying on Houston to come in on third down and get to the quarterback. Though inconsistent in college, he has the physical tools to make an immediate impact on a defense that needs playmakers in the front seven.
Third-round DE Allen Bailey (No. 86 overall) — The Chiefs need depth on the defensive line, and Bailey should provide that with his fantastic strength and pursuit in run defense. While he's unlikely to start, he could see his playing time increase as the season progresses.
Fourth-round CB Jalil Brown (No. 118 overall) — Size was desperately needed at the cornerback position for the Chiefs, a reason the 6-1, 204-pound Brown was selected. Although he lacks elite coverage skills, Brown should be able to match up with some bigger opponents while making an instant impact on special teams.
Fifth-round QB Ricky Stanzi (No. 135 overall) — A developmental QB, Stanzi will be third-string to start the season but is expected to become a dependable backup as his career progresses — perhaps even a starter.
Fifth-round OLB Gabe Miller (No. 140 overall) — Athletic and strong, Miller will need to make his presence felt on special teams to earn a roster spot.
Sixth-round NT Jerrell Powe (No. 199 overall) — Though he needs to get in better shape, Powe is a classic nose tackle who could contribute at a great position of need for Kansas City.
Seventh-round FB Shane Bannon (No. 223 overall) — After graduating from Yale and deciding to take a pass on law school, Bannon was pleased the Chiefs took a chance on him. Expect the blocking back to spend most of the season on the practice squad as he becomes accustomed to the speed and physicality of the NFL.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Chiefs be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Chiefs rate a 3. Kansas City has much of its lineup and coaching staff from a division-winning team returning; the biggest issue now will be integrating the rookies who will be expected to make an instant impact. A new offensive coordinator is a concern, but the offense is expected to remain similar to what QB Matt Cassel has run his entire pro career. Defensively, young players like SS Eric Berry should continue to improve, especially since there aren't any changes to the playbook on that side of the ball.
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