We’re glad you’re here. You’ve fought to be here, and after this past weekend, you’re probably breathing a sigh of relief.
As the Chiefs spent nine picks in a three-day draft that touched every conceivable part of the team (offensive backfield, offensive line, skill positions, front seven and secondary), you somehow made it through the weekend without any premier talent being acquired to challenge you for your roster spot on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Your roster situation is now much more certain than it was before. But it might not be for long — this is the season in which we need you to perform, or you’ll have to pray for lightning to strike twice. This team is ready to launch to the next level, and it’s up to you if you’re one of the sandbags we have to drop to get there.
I’m talking, of course, to several of you. After the jump, I address you individually.
LT Brandon Albert, starter
I am a huge detractors of selecting a guard in the first round, and you were no exception, Branden. Many were projecting you to play tackle, but that transition is perilous in the NFL. I was opposed to selecting you in the first place.
But not only did you live up to the hype by starting at tackle, you manned left tackle from day one, and played superbly your rookie season, warts and all. I was eating my words by November, and happily so.
These days, that flash is still there. Your run blocking is still elite, and there are games where your pass protection is fundamentally sound. But the mistakes come in bunches now. Your false starts lead the team, two years running. And fast passrushers are starting to beat you like a drum.
It has been rumored for two seasons now that the Chiefs are hungry to upgrade their starting left tackle position in the first round. But we have yet to do so — matter of fact, this year we avoided doing it twice when we traded down! And it’s because those flashes are still very evident, and you still have all the ability in the world, ability I didn’t initially see, to lock down the most important position on the line.
Earn it, Branden.
RT Barry Richardson, starter
You were such a brilliant selection in ’08, you’ve got every talent evaluator in the country swallowing crow. You came into November before draft season a potential first rounder, but fell throughout bowl season and draft season when your apparent struggles with indifference and Senior Bowl passrushers dropped you to the midrounds.
But indifference had no place on Todd Haley’s squad, and under Haley (perhaps because of him), your passion for manning the right side overflows every time they run the ball your way. You are not just enthusiastic, you’re mean, and you’ve got the ability to work the left side in a pinch.
The problem is, and always has been, your pass protection. We’ve got the first relatively young franchise QB in my young lifetime, and we can’t take another season testing his toughness.
We know it’s not entirely fair to blame you — this team had no talent other than Bowe to keep defenses honest, and you faced defenses cheating to blitz all year. But now that the team has done what it can to upgrade the talent downfield, you’re going to have a fairer time keeping Cassel clean.
RB Thomas Jones, starter
You are not long for this league, we all know this. But that didn’t make the Chiefs passing over RBs in the first round any less surprising to most fans who consistently mocked big running backs to KC to replace you.
But you’ve got another year on your contract, you want to come back, and the Chiefs want you back. You were a part of the best run game this team has ever had — which in this team’s history and all its great past runners, is a big, big deal. Just as important, you stood up for Jamaal Charles in the face of a media that wants to put him on a stage he seems to resist. And you are not just a leader by example, you are as powerful a voice in the locker room as this young team has (this side of Brian Waters, anyway). KC fans looooove strong personalities, my brother.
You racked up 900 yards in a supporting-type role for Charles. But the wheels came off late in the season. You were gassed, banged up, and showing your age.
We hope the Chiefs find some way to keep you fresh as well as Charles, so both of you can play full steam for 16 games. And now that we’re better downfield, defenses won’t be able to cheat up on you.
So, earn it.
TE Jake O’Connell, reserve
You were part of GM Scott Pioli’s bizarre 2009 draft that has already had a horrifically bust-y track record. It’s weird when your 7th rounder is one of the last remaining cogs with a reasonable hope at success, but that’s what you are.
You’ve got pretty good hands, we’ve seen it during the season. My favorite plays all year (three tight-end sets with you and Moeaki and Pope bulldozing downfield off the tackle) featured you, and you relished your limited snaps. You are by all accounts a fine person, and despite the fact that much of your draft class is no longer in the league (and Donald Washington remains only as our safety position is paper-thin), you defy getting cut every year.
The Chiefs could have upgraded the back-end of their tight end position this year, and moved on from your blue collar ass. But between a horrible TE draft class, and your flashes of capability, they decided you’ve got another season in you to prove that you belong in this league.
RB Jackie Battle, reserve
It’s been four seasons, Jackie, and you continue to find your way onto the roster. Usually de-activated or working special teams, your job during the season is always so limited.
But every year, you are King of the Preseason. No runner we have on our team runs harder than you do during those four exhibition games, so much so that the one big-back this team drafted, Javarris Williams in 2009′s 7th round, couldn’t make the grade and edge you out for the roster spot. Your effort belongs here.
This team still has no thumper running back — Thomas Jones, at age 33, hardly counts anymore. It had gotten to the point where we were handing the ball off to a 320 lb. defensive tackle on the goal line instead of trotting you out.
You’ve got the size to land a place on this team. We need that size carrying the ball, and keeping Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles fresh.
Earn it, Jackie.
OG/C Rudy Niswanger, reserve
You’ve been on this team for five years, I believe, and in some ways you represent what’s right with the NFL. You’re the reason teams have practice squads, you’re the reason teams take chances on projects and attempt to develop them. Because it provides an opportunity for guys to work their asses off and find the field.
You did just that in 2008 and 2009. You were our starting center, and while it didn’t work out terribly well, what did work out was your unconditional commitment to continue working when the team brought in Casey Wiegmann. I’m sure you’ll continue working hard with the arrival of Rodney Hudson.
But there will come a time when we need you to prove that reliability. You play guard fairly well, too, and between those two positions, the Chiefs didn’t pick up any interior line depth.
If you get your chance, and I hope in a way that you will, do your best to earn it.
WRs Terrance Copper, Jeremy Horne, and Verran Tucker, reserves
I’m sorry to say this guys, but you may be on the ropes at this point.
2010 was your season. With Chris Chambers MIA, you had all season to prove yourselves and earn that spot across from Dwayne Bowe. Boundless opportunities, with defenses committing all their resources to containing Bowe, and despite what I assume were your best efforts, this team had to pick up Kevin Curtis, who hasn’t seen the field in years, to start during our playoff game.
Terrance, you may survive because you are our best special teamer. But as far as your performances on the field were concerned, all three of you struggled to make the most of your opportunities. With Johnny Baldwin coming to town, you’re going to get even fewer chances.
The team didn’t take any other receivers, though, so you’ll get those chances nonetheless.
This year, you better earn it.