Despite Record Chiefs Preseason Was Productive

The 2005 Kansas City Chiefs are a very different team from the squad that played the San Diego Chargers in last year's finale. Much of the off-season was spent upgrading the defensive personnel, and the preseason top priority was to mold the new faces into a cohesive, effective unit. The first meaningful test for the newly formed Chiefs defense will happen a week from today at Arrowhead stadium versus the New York Jets.

The offense will look very familiar to followers of the team, as the starting unit has remained largely in tact for the past few years and during that span has been widely regarded as the NFL's top offense. Five starters from last year's offense were selected to play in the Pro Bowl and two others have Pro Bowl experience.

Although the Chiefs were winless in their four preseason games, they led at halftime of each of the last three games. They gave up a combined 20 points by halftime. That's an average of less than seven points per contest before the starters gave way to the second and third string. The Chiefs have every reason to be confident that their off-season acquisitions and time spent allowing the players to gel together during preseason games has been tremendously productive. The defensive starters have been effective at stopping the run, holding such talented backs as Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks to 23 rushing yards on 12 carries, Steven Jackson of the Rams to a mere 9 yards on four attempts and Cardinals starting running back J.J. Arrington to 24 yards on nine attempts.

These accomplishments are remarkable, especially when the 2004 Chiefs defense allowed a whopping 4.6 yards per rush, more than double what the 2005 starters have allowed in the final three preseason games. Only one team in the NFL last year was worse defending the run, the Arizona Cardinals, who allowed 4.7 yards per rush. That is amazing improvement, so there is no doubt that the five new defensive starters have made an impact that should continue into the regular season games.

The offense has a chance to improve as well, as long as quarterback Trent Green is healthy enough to start the regular season opener. Wide receiver Samie Parker should be an improvement over last season's starter Johnnie Morton; right tackle Kevin Sampson showed improved play before his injury and will be recovered and back in the starting line-up within the first week or two; and tight end Kris Wilson will be heavily involved in this year's offense after missing all of last year with a preseason injury. There is also more depth along the offensive line than any year since coach Vermeil took over.

In addition to all the previously mentioned areas of improvement, a concern of the Chiefs coaches was whether or not the team would be able to adequately replace two of the primary special teams players lost through free agency. Linebacker Monty Beisel and running back Derrick Blaylock played significant roles on most of the Special Teams units, but they have been replaced by a combination of talented rookies and veteran players returning from injury who have shown the ability to not only adequately replace these two special teams performers but might even upgrade these positions. Players such as wide receiver Marc Boerigter and tight end Kris Wilson return from injuries that kept them out for the entire 2004 campaign and are both exceptional special teams components. Speedy rookies such as fullback Ronnie Cruz and linebackers Derrick Johnson, Boomer Grigsby and Kris Griffin have all shown a propensity being very productive players on all the special teams units as well.

The enhanced depth and overall level of talent on offense, the five new starters and improved quality of players who expect to see significant playing time on defense—specifically in the rotations at defensive end and linebacker—as well as the aforementioned progress on special teams have the Chiefs feeling justifiably confident. Teams who look at the Chiefs' preseason record and assume that the team has made anything less than an enormous leap forward will be in for a rude awakening.

The jobs done by the Chiefs' personnel department and the coaching staffs across the board have been exceptional. The play on the field will speak for itself, and it all starts next Sunday. There can be no question that this Chiefs team is vastly improved over any of the teams coach Vermeil has fielded during his tenure in Kansas City. Every successful team in the NFL has to have the right combination of talent, remain relatively injury-free and get a few lucky breaks to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Nobody has a crystal bowl to see if the last two components of a Super Bowl run will fall into place for the 2005 Chiefs, but the organization has done all they can do—they've brought in the talent. The coaches have done all they can do, as well, with a tremendously productive training camp and preseason.

This is why, regardless of the win-loss record, this Chiefs team has had a strong off-season and preseason. Let's all hope the team gets a few breaks and stays away from injuries, but even if that happens this team has more depth than it used to. The staff and players deserve to be rewarded for the hard work they have put in and the decisions that have, with very few exceptions, seemed to be the right ones so far. There is a feeling of destiny in the air for the 2005 Chiefs, and it promises to be an exciting ride, beginning with the Jets game on September 11th.

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