It's been a busy week in football. Rookies and free agents were finally able to join their teams on August 4th, just 8 days before the first pre-season game (7 days for a few teams). Coaches are scrambling to install the plays before it's time to take the field. As I suggested in my first Ramblings of an Idiot post, there are going to be a lot of rookies, late comer veterans, and undrafted players that just aren't going to get a fair shot of making the teams this year. Some of them will be protected on the PUP list for the first few weeks of the season, and some will be placed on practice squads with coaches squinting their eyes and wishing that they aren't stolen away by another team.
Some GM's may even use their salary cap space to pay practice squad players that they really want to keep a full NFL minimum salary with a bonus. It's been done before to encourage a players to wait patiently on a practice squad, rather than jump at the first offer they are handed by another team. Paying them well does not 'protect' your team from losing a player that another team wants to add to their active roster, but it does extend a hand of good faith to let the player know that your club really wants them to stay.
Missing out on months of practice and off season time has put the majority of teams behind the 8-ball. GM's and contract negotiators have been scrambling to sign their team's 30+ players without a contract all in one week. And coaches have not been able to even talk to their team or hand out playbooks until 2 weeks before the teams must take the field. I firmly believe the fans are in for some U.G.L.Y. football games in the first quarter of the season.
Teams that haven't made any major changes to scheme, coaches, quarterbacks, or coordinators are going to have a distinct advantage at the beginning of the season. But even those teams are going to have to suffer through rookies and new teammates that don't know the playbook, aren't really sure of their reads, and/or haven't had the advantage of developing timing and comradery with each other.
Some reports out of Arizona's training camp have suggested that on the first day of padded practice coaches had to spend time teaching players how to get into a huddle. There are so many 'green' players joining the league or new teams all at the same time that the simple things everyone should know by August are having to be taught on the fly while coaches are also trying to install formations and plays.
The Chiefs specifically will most likely be better on the defensive side of the ball to begin the season. With 2 brand new receivers (Baldwin and Breaston) joining the team and different players starting at LG, RG, FB, WR (Urban), and Todd Haley taking over the duties and style of play calling I fully expect to see a steep learning curve on every part of the offensive field. Matt Cassel has had very little time to develop any kind of rhythmic patterns with receivers. McClain won't know our playbook or the tendencies of his line. The guards are swapping sides and responsibilities in the running game. Simple things like lining up in the correct spot, or going into motion at the right time are all brand new to our offense.
Every member of the Chiefs will know what do to once the ball is in their hand, but how many times will Cassel drop back expecting to throw a quick 7 yard slant only to have Baldwin execute a perfect 5 yard curl route? How long will this offense have to spend together to keep Lilja from tripping over the feet of a RB as he executes a pull behind the center while the RB steps up in front of the QB to chip block a rushing OLB?
Defenses, in the early season, are going to be able to take advantage of young teams and teams that have made whole sale changes in coaching, scheme, or QB's. I'd lay down money that most of the teams in the league will be bringing blitz pressure frequently against offensive lines that haven't had time to gel and new starting QB's that have had little more than a month to prepare for the start of the regular season. Yes, the first quarter of 2011 offensive football may result in fans making the same face at the T.V. that Fred Sanford used to make when sister-in-law Esther walked into the house. (If you aren't old enough to understand that reference just imagine the sour puss face of someone that just took a bite out of a lemon).
"So", you ask, "why are you trying to convince us that teams are going to be bad at the start of the season?" Simple: Because I'd like to head off as many of the over reacting nay-sayers as I possibly can by preparing them for what they are about to experience. 6 weeks from now when people are moaning and complaining about Cassel not having a 90+ QB rating and 300 yards a game passing I'm going to be able to respond to their comments with a link back to this post. Any AP'er familiar with my 'style' in the comments will immediately recognize the massive decrease in my potential future carpal tunnel problems.
On the other hand, for the non fantasy football / Maddden goobers (those people that would rather see their team WIN than rack up a ton of fantasy points) you may be in for a pleasant surprise. The Chiefs have locked up Tamba Hali, and added a 'real deal' NT to the squad. Berry has a season under his belt and a chance to improve his pre-snap reads. Dorsey and TJax (who I expect to flourish this season) are back in action with the same coaches and the same scheme. The Chiefs should be MUCH more stout up front against the run. The ILB's should greatly benefit from a NT that stuffs the gaps and tackles the RB instead of always having to stop the run at the second level.
Scott Pioli added another blitzer in Houston, and Andy Studebaker can make a bigger rushing impact than Vrabel did in 2010. Wallace Gilberry, I believe, will have more time on the field in the DE rotation to rush on obvious passing downs. Romeo Crennel has all the pieces that he needs to sub in players at will to keep the blitzes coming. The first quarter of the season, against struggling and sloppy offenses, could just turn out to be a defenders dream.
Sacks and Backfield Tackles and Pick-Off's Ohh My!
It's football season again. Nothing can live up to the excitement of opening day approaching. This is the one time of year when every football fan can look at their team with rose colored glasses and proclaim the domination they expect in the coming months. What I see is the pieces falling into place on the development of a monster defense; and (to paraphrase the chipmunks)'I can hardly stand the wait... please kick off don't be late'