It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The defending AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to re-load at their weakest positions, improve at some of their average positions and continue to excel where they had succeeded in the past. They would be a veteran team heading into a season with raised expectations.
But in the NFL, your luck can change in the blink of an eye.
The Chiefs are a much different team in 2011. There are new faces on both sides of the ball that could all have a major impact on how the team performs this season. How quickly these new faces can gel with the old could be the key to the season for the 2011 Chiefs.
On offense, Jared Gaither, Jon Asamoah, Rodney Hudson, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban and Le’Ron McClain could all see significant playing time. A mix of veterans and youngsters, these six players need to step up and take a big role in an offense that had a lot of success in 2010 with little help.
The Chiefs are obviously hoping Gaither can eventually start at one of the tackle positions. If he can, he’ll be a huge upgrade over Barry Richardson.
Urban needs to step up and be a threat opposite Dwayne Bowe. With Bowe drawing most of the attention, Urban is sure to see a lot of one on one looks. Can he use his big frame to box out defenders and help the offense move the chains? Or will he continue to be a non-factor?
Hudson may be the center of the future for the Chiefs but right now he is a very important swingman on the offensive line. The Chiefs had him take snaps at center and guard in the preseason with the hope that should any of the interior line players fall to injury, the rookie will be able to step up. Chances are he’ll be called into action at some point this season. Will he be ready?
Steve Breaston was the team’s only “major” free agency acquisition. In the preseason, however, he did not make much of an impact. Can he develop chemistry with Matt Cassel and draw coverage away from Dwayne Bowe? If he can, the KC passing game should blossom. If he can’t, the team’s receiver woes are likely to continue.
Lastly, can Le’Ron McClain do it all of the Chiefs? They’ll ask him to block for Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, help in pass protection, take short yardage and goal line carries and also catch passes out of the back field. If McClain can excel in most of these areas the Chiefs could be a much more efficient offense.
On defense, most of the faces are the same but it will be the roll players that could take a good unit and make it great. Kelly Gregg, Justin Houston, Cameron Sheffield and Jerrell Powe all could be major contributors.
Gregg figures to be the only starter of this bunch, at least right off the bat. He is charged with plugging up the middle of the KC 3-4 defense while also mentoring the young Powe. If Gregg does his job and forces runners to the outside, KC’s athletic safeties and corners should rack up a lot of tackles this season.
Houston and Sheffield both showed ability in the preseason, especially in the pass-rush department. Andy Studebaker will likely start but these two will see the field often if the Chiefs know what is good for them. Studebaker has the experience but he seems to be a bit limited athletically. Houston and Sheffield are both faster players. If they can catch up fact, one of them, likely Houston, could be starting by the end of the season. Until then, they have to make an impact when the Chiefs do put them on the field.
Powe also played well in the preseason and flashed amazing athleticism for a man of his size. The Chiefs have a lot of sub-packages on defense and they often roll with four man fronts. They also don’t want to over-use Gregg. Powe is going to see the field a lot this season. He’s big and he is fast. He could give the Chiefs a more dangerous pass rush up the middle while also helping to improve their short-yardage run defense.
With so many new faces, what we saw in the preseason may have just been growing pains. The 2010 Chiefs had a lot of holes to fill in 2011 the team is attempting to fill more and more of those holes with younger players. If the new and young faces can step up, the 2011 Chiefs could be even more of a surprise than their 2011 counterparts.
If not, the team may have to take a step backwards before it can take another forward.