Season Preview – Part 1: Offense

Gone are the future Hall-of-Fame offensive linemen. The second-leading passer in franchise history joined them this offseason. The leading rusher in franchise history is a fading memory at this point.

But don't panic just yet. It's a transitional period for the Chiefs on offense, but there's reason for optimism. Let's break it down by position groups.

Quarterback


It's tough to say goodbye to Trent Green, but change is a good thing. For the purposes of this column we'll assume Brodie Croyle receives the starting nod this season over journeyman Damon Huard. What can Chiefs fans expect?

The last third-round pick to start the majority of his team's games was Charlie Frye with the Cleveland Browns. Croyle's career path is similar to this point. Frye sat on the bench for most of his rookie season before playing extensively last year. His output of 10 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and 2,454 yards was disappointing.

Before Frye, Tampa Bay's Chris Simms was the most recent third-round pick to start at length. He, too, produced only mediocre offense. But if we're comparing third-round quarterbacks, I think the most accurate association is Brian Griese.

Obviously, Croyle is much more talented than Griese, but their situations more closely resemble each other. Frye and Simms had one thing in common – lack of a running game. The Browns ranked 31st in rushing offense last season and the 2005 Buccaneers were a meager 14th. Both squads also fielded poor offensive lines.

Griese was blessed with the typical Mike Shanahan running game, and Croyle obviously has the talented Larry Johnson behind him. The Chiefs didn't have a good offensive line a year ago, but the upgrades at offensive tackle coming into this season are significant. I think it's safe to assume Croyle can put up numbers similar to what Griese managed that year – 14 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and about 3,000 yards.

From a purely theoretical standpoint, it will be interesting to see how Croyle's strong arm opens up KC's offense. The Chiefs haven't had a quarterback who can throw the deep ball as well as Croyle can in quite some time.

Running Back


It's tough to predict what Larry Johnson will do this season. Obviously he's coming off two of the best back-to-back years of any running back in league history, with over 3,500 yards rushing.

One might assume he'd replicate that this year, but the 416 carries he took last season places him in dangerous company. Jamal Anderson and Eddie George went immediately downhill after carrying that kind of load.

Eric Dickerson did not, running for the second-most yards in the league in 1987 and earning a Pro Bowl berth. Is Johnson capable of bouncing back in the same way? After training with Joe Carini in New York this offseason, it might be a safe bet.

I think we can predict Johnson will stay healthy and repeat his success of the past two seasons if the Chiefs limit his carries by giving Michael Bennett and Kolby Smith enough touches. If not, LJ may suffer an injury.

Fullback


I'd be hard pressed not to consider this a weakness. Kris Wilson is an outstanding receiver out of backfield, but an average blocker most of the time. Converted linebacker Boomer Grigsby is fast and has flashed excellent hands this offseason, but who knows how he'll pick up the blocking.

Look for the Chiefs to utilize one-back sets to a great extent this season, as they did last year, running out lone setback, shotgun and split back formations around 57 percent of the time.

Wide Receiver


This is about as muddled a position group as you'll find on this team. Eddie Kennison is an obvious starter. After him, the picture becomes clouded, although it might be safe to assume first-round pick Dwayne Bowe will win the job opposite Kennison.

One thing we do know is the Chiefs will have more size and speed in the receiver corps than they've had in a long time. Bowe and second-year wideouts Jeff Webb and Chris Hannon all stand at least 6-foot-2 and have clocked at least 4.40 in the forty-yard dash in the past (Hannon has run in the 4.2's this offseason).

Experience is the only downside with this talented bunch. It's impossible to predict what a first-round wide receiver will do in his rookie season, so I'm not even going to try. I think we'll see more production from the receiver corps this season, however. A year ago, Rod Gardner spent much of the season as KC's third wide receiver and caught only two passes.

Tight End


Perennial Pro-Bowler Tony Gonzalez experienced a career resurgence of sorts last year, maintaining his usual season output despite the decline in offense around him. He attributed it to a new offseason workout. Chiefs fans can only hope he repeated that training over the last few months.

Gonzalez has plenty left in the tank, even at 31. It will be interesting to see how the presence of Dwayne Bowe affects his numbers. He's played much of his career with only one wide receiver (Andre Rison, Derrick Alexander, Kennison) drawing attention away from him. A first-time starter like Croyle is sure to rely upon such a valuable safety blanket like Gonzalez, too, so we might see his receptions increase.

Offensive Line


Forget about the line you saw in 2006, and forget about the rampant doom-and-gloom predictions for KC's offensive line you've seen almost everywhere this offseason. The Chiefs will field a much better starting five than they did a year ago.

Jordan Black, an offensive tackle who led the league in sacks allowed a year ago, is gone. His partners in crime on the other side (Kevin Sampson, Kyle Turley and John Welbourn) won't be opening any games at right tackle this season. That means better protection and a more diverse running game.

I think we'll see the return of the stretch running play in the offense this year. The Chiefs simply couldn't run it effectively last year because the offensive tackles were so inconsistent at sealing the corner. Damion McIntosh and Chris Terry will be much more effective at blocking outside running plays.

Count on a decrease in sacks allowed and overall improved play from the line this year. If Will Svitek can beat out Terry for the starting job at right tackle, things could really look good this season. Just don't hold out hope for a return to Dick Vermeil's high-flying offense full of seven-step drops. There's a difference between a solid offensive line and a world-class one.

Projected season stats: 315 yards per game, 22 points per game.


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