The K.C. Chiefs And The Need For Speed

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1 Feature From The Bleachers

One thing we learned from this year’s Super Bowl is that the Seattle Seahawks team speed is a difference maker. Yes, the Seattle players appeared smart, well prepared and articulate but I know of quite a few players who are smart, well prepared and articulate… but can’t find a place in the NFL. The difference for the Seahawks is their physicality and specifically, their team speed.

These Seahawks looked like they were playing at 78 rpms while their opponent was stuck at 45 rpms with the record skipping and scratching… and not in the good DJ way.

So, where does this “need” for increased speed come from? Well, when the Chiefs defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton, decided to play one-deep Safety on many sets this season he was concurrently electing to place S Kendrick Lewis in a position to cover the complete width of the field in the case a deep pass play would occur. Well… it did. And… he didn’t.

Now, the reason is… that Lewis is not known for reading and anticipating a quarterback’s moves prior to the release of the football so he then has to depend solely on his natural born speed to make up the difference. The problem for the Chiefs this season was that Lewis was always attempting to make up a difference in distance that was not possible for him to make up. He’s simply not fast enough.

Although Andy Reid said at the beginning of this off season, that this year is different that the beginning of last season, because staff and player evaluation was already “on-going” so, it’s hard to understand why the Chiefs didn’t already “know” this about Lewis and make some “other” decisions than they did. Clearly, Lewis has not been up to the task.

Kendrick Lewis came to the Chiefs the same year Eric Berry took over and Berry immediately started hitting home runs in center field, and that was in 2010. Berry turned out to be so good as a rookie he made the Pro Bowl his first season. Plus, many believed the Chiefs had found their “new safety tandem,” in Berry & Lewis, that would last for the next ten years.

So, why didn’t it work out?

Kendrick Lewis was drafted 130th overall, the 15th ranked Safety in the 2010 draft, and was taken in the fifth round. Furthermore, then GM Scott Pioli, totally ignored the speed required to play the centerfield position that Free Safety has become, because the best 40 yard dash time Kendrick Lewis had run up to that point was a 4.57.

Well, you may reason, “There aren’t going to be any players who can run a sub 4.4, 40 available that late in the draft.” However, take a look at this year’s possible late rounders.

  • Consider… WR Jeff Janis, 6-2, 212, Saginaw Valley State. He’s rated the 169th best prospect in this year’s coming draft by nfldraftscout.com which means he’ll likely be drafted somewhere in the 6th round. Janis has run a 4.32, 40 yard dash.
  • Consider… CB Deion Belue, 5-11, 183, Alabama. He’s been clocked at 4.38 in the 40 and being ranked 148 overall should go somewhere in the 5th round.
  • Consider… RB/WR De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9 170, of Oregon. He can be had in the later rounds too even though the Chiefs could just as easily re-sign their own Mighty Mouse munchkin, Dexter McCluster, who goes 5-8, 170. Why don’t they? The answer is money.

Money and speed.

Am I suggesting that De’Anthony Thomas is faster than Dex? Yes. In fact, the fastest 40 yard dash time that McCluster ran coming out of college was a 4.42. Now, I realize that’s nothing to sneeze at but, Thomas has run a 4.23. With the experience Thomas has at both running back and wide receiver he becomes perfectly qualified to take Dexter McCluster, the Pro Bowler’s spot in the Chiefs lineup.

Newly signed WR Weston Dressler has 4.44 speed but he may not be the real replacement for Dex either. However, he might work out as a platoon plyer who helps to replace Dex.

The money part of this equation is that McCluster was a $1,400.000 dollar hit in 2013 in a contract year no less. Now, without a contract, and and in anticipation of free agency on the horizon… and with the Chiefs having to fit so many others under the cap… it looks like Dex, will be an ex-Chief.

The cost for drafting a 5th or 6th round player? Less than $500,000 per year. So, you can see that the Chiefs can easily free up around a million cap space dollars by going a different direction than re-signing Dexter McCluster. Especially because it will likely take a lot more than 1.4 million to re-sign Dex.

For a realistic snapshot of the situation the Chiefs are in with the salary cap, check out Lyle Graversen post called, The Kansas City Chiefs Salary Cap Options. The funny-sad-strange part is… it looks like the Chiefs can improve their team speed at that position — slot WR/PR — by letting their Pro Bowler walk in free agency.

The History of Speed

The year was 1964. I remember it well. The topless swimsuit made it’s brief but unforgettable debut. The Beatles landed on American paydirt and the culture of music, as well as culture itself,  would never be the same. LBJ was re-elected after JFK was shot dead in 63 on the streets of Dallas and all of Camelot died along with him. Muhammad Ali became Muhammad Ali beating Sonny Liston (which I watched on the radio) changing the face of sports, religion and politics in one stinging blow. And… Bullet Bob Hayes ran away from from world records and Olympic glory and changed the face of American football forever.

In those days, the lucky and talented few who represented our country in the Olympics were truly American heroes immortalized the very first moments we would see them on one of only a few channels we had on our black and white TV.  Bob Hayes was certainly one of those guys for me. I was a skinny kid who not only idolized men like Hayes but wanted with every ounce of my being to “become” someone just like him.

In those days, many kids thought it was just as glamorous to become a speed demon sprinter like Bob Hayes… as it was to become a football player. However, in our minds, those two weren’t exclusive. One led to the other, especially with heroes like Jim Thorpe. We all wanted to be All-Everything. However, few ever are.

Except, Bob Hayes was one of those guys.

To fully understand the impact of Bob Hayes speed, you first had to understand the era in which he came to the NFL. Those were the days of Jim Brown in Cleveland who was known more from running over opponents than around, which he was also perfectly capable of doing. Those were the days of the Lombardi led Packers who had not only one Marshawn Lynch type RB but two in Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor.

So, along comes the speedster Bob Hayes and what does he do? He led the league in receiving TDs his first two seasons which also included a nine catch 246 yard game. Bob Hayes was one of the first impact players in the game… before there were impact players.

What most fans forget about Bob Hayes… and probably his most notable contribution to the game was… the way defenses had to adjust to him because of this speed. Thus, the bump and run was born as well as forcing teams into a “zone coverage” scheme. Beyond that, the presence of Hayes also forced opponents to value the defensive back (DB) ushering in the age of the passing game… long before the passing game became the central focus of the NFL game we know today.

There have been plenty of other speedsters to follow. Willie Gault. Renaldo Nehemiah. Cliff Branch. These players leave us with a legacy of unforgettable speed yet, unknown speed. These days everyone knows everyone else’s 40 time. Not so for these mentioned above. We are left with only images of their blurring contribution to the game.

Now, all times are kept by electronic processes but some hand held times dazzle us to this day. Bo Jackson at 4.12. Darrell Green at 4.15. Ike Taylor at 4.18. These days the time of Deion Sanders at 4.21 is popularly accepted as the fastest electronic record.

Chiefs Team Speed

So, what does any of that have to do with the Chiefs? Well, judging by what we saw in the Super Bowl, if the Chiefs want to get to the promised land anytime soon, they will have to improve their overall team speed. And that doesn’t just mean a faster WR and a faster Free Safety… but those are good places to start.

The Seattle Seahawks have set the new standard. Speed must now be moved up the laundry list of priorities for prospects to possess when evaluating them. Or else, there’s just no competing with the new defending Super Bowl Champions. Period.

So, over the next couple of months… until the 2014 draft in May, let’s make sure we keep an eye out for the speed of the new players that the new regime is bringing into Arrowhead. because… if I’m right about John Dorsey and Andy Reid… then all the newbies will be speed freaks. And, in this case, that’s going to be a very, very good thing.

How about you Addict fans? Do you feel the need for speed?

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