Solari Needs Seasoning

Three seasons ago, a defensive coordinator was public enemy No. 1 among Chiefs fans. Now their attention has turned toward the other side of the ball and offensive coordinator Mike Solari, who had his struggles in a 2006 season full of growing pains.

Fortunately, the situation isn't nearly as dire as it was back when Greg Robinson was dropping Ryan Sims into zone coverage and doing whatever it took to allow 150 yards rushing every week. But Solari was burdened by a myriad of criticisms last year – some understandable, some ludicrous.

The fans wailed in anguish and cried out for Al Saunders when the Chiefs ran on third-and-five in last year's season opener. Some of them blamed Solari for the Trent Green injury, or Larry Johnson's titanic workload. And the game in Denver? The majority of the fingers were pointed right at Solari after that loss.

My thoughts on the subject? Be patient with the guy. Considering the tools he had to work with, I wonder if any other offensive coordinator could have done as well as Solari did in Kansas City last year. Comparisons to Jimmy Raye are not valid.

Consider that after injuries to Trent Green and Kyle Turley in the first two weeks, the Chiefs were left with only five players on offense that had more than 29 games of starting experience. That's six players (four of which filled skill positions, including quarterback) with less than two years of seasoning.

Compare to the start of 2005. Saunders entered the season with an offense full of starters so experienced, they could execute touchdown drives in their sleep. Samie Parker and Jordan Black were the only opening-day starters with less than 56 games of experience.

After the debacle against Cincinnati, it quickly became clear the offensive line was in no shape to execute the stretch-run/vertical passing game of years past. Fans may have complained about the scaled-back aggression and the number of running plays called, but what was Solari supposed to do? Allow Damon Huard to get his block knocked off as Green did before letting Brodie Croyle test the shark-infested waters? Not a bright idea.

I don't think the average fan fully appreciates how inept KC's offensive line was a year ago. Consider the sequence of plays that opened the game in Kansas City against the Chargers.

Solari started with four straight handoffs to Johnson, advancing his offense to San Diego's 24 yard-line. He then attempted a play-action pass that fell incomplete. Why?

As soon as Huard carried out the fake, Chargers' linebacker Shaun Phillips was right in his grill. The pass was nearly intercepted. Even after four straight runs, and with a fake to slow the rush, Solari's offensive line couldn't provide adequate enough protection to execute a play in the manner it was drawn up (Huard wisely got rid of the ball in a hurry on the following pass, by the way).

Solari may have been conservative at times, but he was merely fitting square pegs (his talent) in square holes (appropriate gameplans).

We've seen what happens when offensive coordinators try to jam square pegs into circular holes. Al Saunders didn't have the appropriate personnel to run the Coryell offense in 2001 and his first year as KC's playcaller was incredibly inconsistent. Last year in Washington the same thing happened again. The Redskins used two different starting quarterbacks and running backs but scored over 20 points just six times.

Is this to say Saunders didn't know what he was doing? Of course not. He simply didn't have the tools he needed to get the job done. Neither did Solari a year ago.

Saunders and Solari are not alone. NFL history is filled with offensive coordinators who struggled early only to blossom into Merlin-like playcallers later on in their careers.

Bill Walsh's San Francisco 49ers didn't crack the top 10 in scoring until Joe Montana took over the reigns. The 2002 Chargers ranked only 20th in scoring despite LaDanian Tomlinson, and yet now Cam Cameron, the architect of that offense, sits in Miami with a head coaching job he earned because of the offensive success he had in San Diego.

Jon Gruden's 1995 Philadelphia Eagles? 25th in total offense. Joe Gibbs' 1978 Tampa Bay Buccaneers? A dismal 28th (Gibbs would later coordinate Coryell's offense in San Diego before the Redskins wisely hired him away).

None of these coaches were instant hits as offensive coordinators. Neither was Solari, but his offense certainly didn't rank in the 20's a year ago. It's fair to give him another chance, and in the meantime, stop complaining about him.

Who knows what he can build with upgraded tools like Damion McIntosh, Dwayne Bowe, Chris Terry and – dare to dream – a young, strong-armed quarterback? Top Stories