Do not enter the battle unless you know you are going to win.
- Sun Tzu
Training Camp opens July 28th in St. Joe. Now we begin the hard work that will ultimately determine who the Chiefs will be in 2012. Our success or failure will be determined by things like how well the players and coaches internalize the playbook; who wins critical position battles; what sort of shape the players are in; and which players make the cut. As Sun Tzu says, the determinant of winning is what happens before you step onto the battlefield.
A lot of posts this summer have been devoted to the position battles, and for good reason. There are key questions, like who the #2 quarterback will be; who will emerge as our slot receiver; whether Jevon Belcher will beat out Brandon Siler at weakside linebacker; and whether Jeff Allen will push Ryan Lilja at left guard. Each of those questions will come out of the wash in the coming weeks.
I want to delve into three other critical puzzles from training camp that need to be solved. These puzzles may well play a decisive role in whether the Chiefs compete for the AFC Championship or not. All of these puzzles revolve around chemistry and leadership, which I maintain are the critical difference makers between championship teams and well, teams like the Chiefs who have fielded over the years. My top three puzzles that need solving from this year’s training camp are:
Offensive Leadership: We lost some key locker room leaders in Casey Wiegmann and Thomas Jones. During practice, team meetings, on the sidelines and in the huddle, who will emerge as leaders on offense? Who will be the players that motivate others, hold players accountable for sloppy play or misbehavior and bring out the best in each Chief? Will it be Matt Cassel? Past reports have shown Cassel to be a commander in the huddle, a gym rat off the field and a fiery competitor on the field. Might it be Ryan Lilja or Brandon Albert? Could it be Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston or Jamaal Charles? Every championship team has a universally respected, veteran leader or two that takes charge and puts the team on his shoulders. It is unclear to me right now who that leader will be on the offensive side, although we have several great candidates.
Defensive Identity: We are absolutely loaded with talent on the defensive side. From two lockdown corners to two outside linebackers who can both rush to a new tank in the middle of our defense in Dontari Poe to perhaps the soon-to-be best field general in the league in Eric Berry we have all the ingredients we need to win. But what will the identity of this 2012 Chiefs defense be? Romeo is famous for his bend-but-don’t-break defenses. But to get us to the next level (multiple playoff wins in 2012), we need something more than bend-but-don’t-break. I wonder what Crennel will have in mind after seeing what’s he got in training camp? Will we be the Monsters of the Midway or the Steel Curtain? Will we have the intimidating toughness of the Ray Lewis-led Ravens? Will we have the big play potential of Troy Polamalu’s Steelers? What will emerge as the overall character of this defense? Whatever it is won’t be known by just looking at the quality of the personnel. Our defensive character will emerge as a unit, not just emanating from one or two individuals.
Chain of Command: Collectively, we cringed every time the Chiefs got a delay of game penalty last year because Todd Haley and his strange system of offensive playcalling just could not get the plays onto the field in time. That complete breakdown in communications was indicative of a larger collapse in the chain of command on the coaching side. For whatever reason, there was disunity within the coaching staff, resulting in frayed relationships, delay of game penalties and perhaps even faulty game-planning. It’s time for Romeo to institute teachings from his military background and years of coaching experience, while re-forging the Chiefs coaching staff into one, seamless unit.
Of these three potential puzzles, I think the most important one to solve is the chain of command among the coaching staff. Team sports (and, in fact, most successful enterprises) need strong leadership and an equally strong and clear chain of command. Then players can maximize their abilities within that framework and play with reckless abandon.
As training camp blends into the pre-season, let’s keep an eye out for the coaching chain of command. Without it, we’ll be just another regular season team. Addicts, what do you think is the top puzzle to solve coming out of training camp?