Make-or-break. Do-or-die. Hot seat.
These terms can be used to describe the future of many players and coaches once the 2011 NFL season begins. While there are players and coaches all around the league that fall into these categories, the focus of this article will be on the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs had a great season last year, rebounding from a 4-12 record in 2009, and finishing with a 10-6 record, an AFC West Championship, and a playoff berth. This turn around could not have been achieved without some great individual player stepping up their game and proving their worth to the organization.
The 2011 season, with a much hard schedule, will be no different for the Chiefs. Look for these seven individuals to either step up their game in 2011 and contribute to the team success, or be left on the sidelines wishing they had done more to prove their worth.
Tyson Jackson was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft and has done nothing to live up to his draft status. Jackson statistically has not performed well at all having only registered one sack in his two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
As a rookie in 2009 Jackson started 14 of the 16 games and only registered 38 tackles. While Jackson was injured most of 2010, there was somewhat of a bright spot. While Jackson only started three games in 2010 he recorded 31 tackles, which meant statistically he was averaging more tackles per game in 2010 that in 2009.
The problem for Jackson however lies in the draft class of 2011. With the selection of a defensive end and two outside linebacker that could possible play defensive end, Jackson must perform this season or lose his spot in the defensive line rotation, possible permanently.
While it started off with a bang, overall Dexter McCluster had a rough, injury filled, rookie season for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010. McCluster had a total of 280 of total offensive in 2010, rushing 18 times and recording 21 receptions.
The Chiefs have added a starting caliber wide receiver, in Jonathan Baldwin, who should open up the middle of the field for McCluster. Look for McCluster to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NFL game and bounce back strong in 2011.
Todd Haley has also already stated this offseason he would like to see McCluster touch the ball more out of the backfield, possibly as a third down back. If McCluster can remain injury free he should increase his rushing attempts and receptions and have a solid sophomore NFL season. If McCluster cannot remain health or become a part of the offensive the Chiefs may have to start to explore other options next offseason.
Brodie Croyle has more pressure on him to perform in 2011 than any other Kansas City Chiefs player. In the eyes of many analyst and sports writers, including myself, Croyle should already be gone.
In his career as a starting quarterback for the Chiefs, Croyle has a 0-10 record and has been nothing but inconsistent. In his ten starts Croyle has looked like a NFL quality quarterback once, the first game of the 2010 season against the Baltimore Ravens.
With the addition of Ricky Stanzi through the 2011 NFL Draft, Croyle’s time is quickly running out. Unless new Quarterback Coach Jim Zorn can work a miracle on Croyle, look for Stanzi to compete for and win the backup quarterback position during training camp.
Javier Arenas was a jack of all trades for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010. Arenas’ was the starting nickelback, starting kick and punt returner, and he even lined up as a wide receiver and running back a few times.
The problem with Arenas was that he did not excel at any of these positions he played. Arenas failed to make an interception in 2010 and had two fumbles as a returner. As a nickelback, Arenas must have more of an impact on the defensive side of the ball. As a returner, the Chiefs cannot afford mistakes, like fumbles, on special teams.
Add in the fact that the Chiefs selected Jalil Brown in the 2011 NFL Draft, and Arenas job becomes less secure. Brown will challenge Javier Arenas for the nickelback position during training camp. If Arenas cannot retain his nickelback position is time in Kansas City could be shorter than initially expected.
Todd Haley as Offensive Play Caller
It is no secret that Todd Haley made several offensive play calls per game in 2010, however in 2011 it is expected that he will be making all the offensive play calls. While Haley has a proven track record as an offensive coordinator, he had a hard time performing both roles his first season with the Chiefs in 2009.
The 2009 Chiefs offense was unorganized, sloppy, and just not very good. Haley had a hard time controlling both the offense and the whole team that season. Haley himself even stated so much last season when Charlie Weis was hired, telling Adam Teicher, “I am glad that we went through the year we went through but I am even more glad we were able to have the opportunity to bring Charlie in here and make him a part of our staff because, yes, it will allow me to again function the way the most efficient programs function.”
If Haley is unable to improve the offense from last season, or he diverts the team back to the 2009 Chiefs look for Scott Pioli to put pressure on Haley to hire an actual offensive coordinator after the season.