Last week, I spoke about some of the moves the Chiefs need to make this offseason on offense, but the Quarterback and Receiver issue pretty much hijacked the entire discussion. I want to use this part of the column to round out that discussion by focusing on the Chiefs' offensive line. I also want to talk about the coaching staff and special teams.
What's really interesting about the scope of this discussion is that two months ago, the fans were stressed about the state of the offensive line but pretty psyched about the progress of the coaching staff. Today, it seems like the fans have flipped opinions.
Special Teams: Let me just get this part out of the way. Ryan Succop and Dustin Colquitt are clearly safe. Steve Hoffman has also quietly built an outstanding coverage unit around them and that coverage will only get better as the roster becomes deeper with talent (remember, when there is a lot more uncertainty on a roster, it becomes tougher to keep dedicated special teams specialists like Gary Stills on your roster). I sense that as the roster gets better, you'll see more Terrence Coppers on this team and that will make an already outstanding special teams unit even better. At the Kick Returner position, given that the Chiefs have a need for both a speed threat at wide receiver and a returner, don't be surprised to see the Chiefs try to kill two birds with one stone by bringing in a guy who can do both.
Offensive Tackle: I know there's been a lot of uproar about how the Chiefs must get the best offensive lineman on the board with the top pick, no questions asked. I couldn't disagree more. With a top 5 pick, the only position that carries any positional value is Left Tackle and while I am not a draft expert, I'm not really that wow'ed by the top Left Tackles on the board and I'm pleased enough with Branden Albert's progress over the last few weeks. If Branden Albert is indeed the answer at Left Tackle, then you absolutely, positively do NOT move him to any other position. Especially with your top 5 pick. On the right side, I don't see Ryan O'Callaghan ever progressing to the point where he would be considered a franchise Right Tackle. However, given the Chiefs' high urgency needs at multiple positions, I would have to think that finding O'Callaghan's replacement is pretty low on the priority list. That's a position that the Chiefs could probably fill through the later rounds of the draft. I am all in favor of bringing in a whole truckload of competitive options; I just don't think the Chiefs need to reach to get any specific one. The Chiefs should try to do better than O'Callaghan, but if he is the Chiefs' option in 2010, that's not a decision that will come back to haunt them.
- Stays: Branden Albert (#1 LT), Ryan O'Callaghan (#2 RT), Barry Richardson (#2 LT)
- Pick up: New starting RT either through free agency or around rounds 3-7/undrafted
Center: I don't know who will play Center for the Chiefs in 2010, but it had better not be Rudy Niswanger. Wade Smith might be an option, but I doubt it. There really isn't an option on the team that makes you do cartwheels. If I was to prioritize offensive line positions, I would have to say that bringing in a top-flight Center is easily at the top of the list. However, Rudy Niswanger will have a secure roster spot because he's fine as a backup and you have to like his flexibility to play both Guard and Center
- Stays: Rudy Niswanger (#2 Center)
- Pick-up: A higher draft pick (2nd-3rd round) or highly touted free agent
Guard: Guard is a position that I see as a pressing need, but not a pressing priority. Brian Waters isn't the Left Guard we thought he was when he was playing next to Willie Roaf, but he's still a good option. At Right Guard, Wade Smith really isn't a terrible option and there are some players on the roster who might make for interesting competition. I still think Rudi Niswanger could make a decent Guard, and you have two young players on the practice squad---Colin Brown and Darryl Harris---who might be able to compete in the offseason for the starting job. The Chiefs need to start thinking about bringing in a better player than Smith and an eventual replacement for Waters, but for now, the position is such a low level of priority that the Chiefs shouldn't consider an upgrade unless there is a Best Player Available (BPA) option in the 3rd through 7th round of the draft or a clear upgrade who slips into free agency.
- Stays: Brian Waters (#1 LG), Wade Smith (#1 RG)
- Potential In-house Replacements: Colin Brown, Darryl Harris
- Pick-up: Either drafted potential #1 RG or free agent #1 RG, Potential replacement for Brian Waters at LG in 2-3 years via draft
There's been a lot of talk about Todd Haley being a target for firing. I really hope that's not the case and given his contract, I don't think that will happen. Coaches need time to establish their program. It always reflects badly on an organization when they play musical chairs with their coaches. Oakland and Washington are two NFL markets that can never seem to establish continuity because they're continually changing systems and philosophies. Haley has made a lot of mistakes for sure, but most rookie head coaches do and I still think he would make considerably less mistakes if he wasn't wearing so many hats. The Chiefs need to hire an Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach and that's non-negotiable.
However, the clock has started to tick for Haley. The mistakes he's making now are unforgiveable in 2010. He has to become a better game manager. In his defense, a lot of his game management mistakes are situational. Haley has been over-aggressive on fourth down situations, but who's to say he'll be just as aggressive when this team is a little better? When you have an offense that struggles to put points on the board, sometimes you take a few more risks to score touchdowns. When you have a defense that can implode at any given second of a game, sometimes you have to be more aggressive about going for 7 to create some cushion for the defense.
I'm also becoming increasingly concerned about the team's lack of discipline. Haley was hyped up to be a disciplinarian and yet his team plays without any shred of discipline. Maybe the team has started to give up, but it's also quite possible that they don't buy what Haley is selling. Sometimes when you overthink, you become more prone to mistakes.
I've said from the beginning that the stupidest move the Chiefs made this offseason was to enter the season without an Offensive Coordinator or a Quarterbacks Coach and they are paying a price for it. How many times have we watched another team's sideline and saw a Quarterback make a mistake, then immediately consult with one of the Assistant Coaches. Cassel hasn't had that luxury. He's had to figure that all out on his own. He's a young QB who's had to coach himself, not only on mechanics, but on how to think through the game. It might also help Cassel to have a fall-back guy. When Haley tears Cassel apart for making a mistake, sometimes it helps to have another coach on the staff to turn to for help. I imagine Cassel doesn't have the same access to good coaching off the field either. The Chiefs bought a $60M product and didn't even equip themselves with a training manual. Unbelievable.
On other levels, rather than go into painstaking detail about each and every coach, let's just talk about the ones whose job security might be called into question. The two names that most often come up in discussions are Tim Krumrie and Bill Muir. In my opinion, Krumrie is a scapegoat of convenience. It started several years ago when he got negative publicity for running what many consider to be a useless combine drill. That escalated into hatred when he coached one of the worst defensive lines in football. In the fans' defense, Krumrie probably should have been canned along with Herm Edwards. But I was okay with keeping him on board because Scott Pioli, a completely neutral set of eyes with no tie to Herm Edwards or Carl Peterson, thought Krumrie was good enough to keep on his staff.
The question is, has the Defensive Line improved under Krumrie? My answer is "yes." Don't get me wrong. The Defensive Line still stinks, but you have to be careful about understanding why that's the case. We shouldn't judge Krumrie based on his ability to coach up players who don't have talent to play their respective position in the first place (Ron Edwards) or rookies who might not see improvement until 2010 (Tyson Jackson). Krumrie has taught his linemen to operate in an entirely different defense, and he has improved several of the players within it. Dorsey went from a non-factor last season to a fairly consistent disruptive force at a position that I still don't believe best fits his skill sets. Tamba Hali has improved by leaps and bounds in his role as a 3-4 OLB. Even Wallace Gilberry and Alex Magee have looked pretty good from time to time. In other words, when he has talent and the time to develop them, he hasn't done a poor job and maybe the 3-4 Defense is his sweet spot. If Dorsey and Hali continue to play at a high level, if Jackson plays better in his second season as Dorsey did, and if the Chiefs bring in a legit Nose Tackle (which they have to), the Defensive Line will be a strength for the Chiefs.
As for Muir, that's also a tough call to make. I never really liked him because I was never a fan of the offensive lines that he coached in the past. But like Krumrie, he's actually made a lot of progress with virtually nothing to work with. The Chiefs have horrible players on the offensive line. No amount of coaching is going to fix that. I do think Muir has done a surprisingly admirable job making a bad unit look increasingly better over the past several weeks.
At Wide Receivers coach, I'd expect a change here too. The Chiefs demoted Dedric Ward earlier in the season and plugged in Richie Anderson. I would be surprised if the Chiefs looked at Anderson as anything more than a stopgap, unless they plan to keep him as an Assistant coach somewhere else.
Finally, Clancy Pendergast. I don't like his defense. Behind all the shifts and moving people around, the defense still seems pretty vanilla. To this day, I still wonder if he was hired because he was the guy Pioli wanted or because he was the only one left late in the season. I sense it's the latter. I actually think Pendergast would make a terrific assistant coach, but more likely than not, he's not going to accept a demotion.
- Stays: All Assistant Coaches except Pendergast
- Goes: Clancy Pendergast, Dedric Ward
- Pick up: Offensive and Defensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach, Wide Receivers Coach
I know it sounds like I'm not pushing for change. Between keeping continuity on the coaching staff