Chiefs’ remodeled offense could be an explosive unit

By The Associated Press

ST. JOSEPH – The process has been slow and sometimes painful, but the Chiefs are finally ready to show their burgeoning collection of offensive skill players to the rest of the football world.

“This is a team that can compete and contend in terms of that division,” said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, who sees the Chiefs every year as a CBS analyst. “I like what they’re doing with those guys. There’s a method to their madness.”

At the very least, it’s difficult to fault their effort. The Chiefs attacked the issue again this year, drafting one wide receiver, Jonathan Baldwin, with their first-round pick and signing another, Steve Breaston, in free agency.

The Chiefs added Tony Moeaki, Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster last year to a group that already included Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel. Suddenly, what was a horrid offensive group as recently as 2009 has the potential to be one of the NFL’s most explosive teams.

The Chiefs, with just two days of training camp practices behind them, are trying to downplay the expectations.

“We brought some guys in that can make plays,” Jones said. “The new guys, they just have to find their niche and fit into the offense. I think they’ll fit in perfectly. You can never have too many good players.

“On paper, everything looks great. You have to do it on the field. I’m not one of those guys that looks at names. I’ve played with guys that I never heard of before that stepped up and made plays.”

But this is what the Chiefs have been trying to build ever since general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley arrived in early 2009. They invested significant resources into upgrading what was one of the league’s worst groups of skill players.

The result is a group that could eventually become the best in Chiefs history. Bowe at wide receiver and Charles at running back last year had seasons that were among the best ever at their respective positions for the Chiefs. Moeaki caught 47 passes last year as a rookie, 14 better than future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez caught as a rookie in 1997.

Throw in some other strong if not spectacular parts and these Chiefs could rival high-scoring Chiefs teams from 1966 and 2003. The 1966 team was one of the highest-scoring clubs in team history, accomplishing that in 14 games. Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson and wide receiver Otis Taylor were the best players at their positions ever to play for the Chiefs.

The 2003 team had Gonzalez and running back Priest Holmes, but the strength of that team was its offensive line.

“Is this the best group the Chiefs have ever had?” Dawson said, repeating a question posed to him. “That’s a good question. I would take my group. But I’m prejudiced.

“The eras are different so it’s hard to compare. The rules have changed, a lot of things have changed since my era. But we never had anybody with the speed of Jamaal Charles. This guy is an all-the-way guy. He gets in that open field and he’s almost impossible to catch.

“They had one receiver last year. I know they brought some people in, so they’re addressing the problem but the jury is still out on them. And (Moeaki) had a nice rookie season. Very encouraging and he should be better this year.”

The Chiefs showed considerable offensive progress last year. They weren’t content to stop there, adding the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Baldwin to play opposite Bowe.

“He’s a big, physical specimen,” said Cassel, who threw to Baldwin in some informal off-season workouts. “You’ve probably seen the highlights like I have of him jumping up and getting the ball. He does a good job of protecting the ball with his body as well.

“The big challenge for him like all the rookies this year is getting caught up to speed on the terminology and the mental aspect of the game just because you don’t have those (off-season practices) and mini-camps we normally would.”

Breaston, who had a 77-catch, 1,006-yard season playing for Haley with Arizona in 2008 and is still only 27, gives the Chiefs a fast wide receiver, something they lacked last year.

“It was definitely something we wanted to try to get done if possible,” Haley said. “I wouldn’t say it was a mandatory deal for us. When you have a competent player for you that can run and stretch the field when needed, it helps everybody else, it helps your running game.”

The Chiefs are counting on more development from almost every one of their skill players. Jones, at 31, is the oldest and the only one over 30. Baldwin and McCluster are trying to establish themselves while Moeaki has played only one season.

“It’s very much a young group,” Gannon said. “Moeaki and McCluster are still learning. The thing that will hurt those guys is you see a lot of improvement from year one to year two in a lot of young players.

“They’ve not had the benefit of working in the off-season with their coaches. Even Dwayne Bowe is still young, still raw, still developing. He’s the kind of guy you need to stay on and continue to challenge.

“Are the Chiefs as explosive and dynamic as some other offenses? Maybe not yet. They still have some work to do.”

Another potential sign of trouble could be the offensive line, which struggled at times last season to handle bigger, more physical opponents.

The Chiefs also changed offensive coordinators. Charlie Weis left for the University of Florida and offensive line coach Bill Muir took over.

But Haley might call the plays. That could be a setback for Cassel, who struggled in 2009 when Haley served as coordinator and offensive play-caller.

“The only struggle is that from a quarterback’s perspective, you worry if you have enough time with the play-caller,” Gannon said. “Is Todd going to be able to be in those morning meetings with the quarterbacks during the week or is he going to have some other things to do that he has to take care of?

“Head coaches that call the plays generally don’t spend enough time with their quarterback. Matt Cassel is still learning, too, so you don’t want to do anything that could hurt his development. This is something that could possibly do that.”

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