Warpaint Roundtable – Offseason Edition III

This week our crew tackles Chiefs youth, Larry Johnson's future and rookie offensive lineman Branden Albert.

This team is going as far as Croyle and the rest of the kids can take it. What young players do you expect to step up to the challenge and play well enough that we won't be talking about their positions as needs going into next offseason?

Nick Athan: The Chiefs need to hit long-term home runs with each of their first three picks, and they have to become starters immediately. Center Rudy Niswanger could be the one young player who has the biggest impact, and obviously the Chiefs are looking for improvement from Tank Tyler and Turk McBride. Another sleeper could be tight end Michael Allan. He needs to get stronger, but has good hands, and if he learns to block he could be a big contributor this year.

Michael Ash: I think Rudy Niswanger will be a solid center, and considering he was battling an injury last season, I'm optimistic Jarrad Page will step up and deliver on the promise he showed as a rookie. While I'm certainly hopeful that Croyle will be in that group, we don't know what kind of offensive line he'll have.

C.E. Wendler: Bernard Pollard had his struggles in his first season as a starter, but he's simply too talented not to play consistently well eventually. His attitude towards the NFL is also a plus – when Gunther Cunningham talked about finding real Chiefs a few months ago, I immediately thought of Pollard. Furthermore, when you consider Herm Edwards' history, he's rarely wrong about defensive backs. Look at the two safeties he drafted in New York.

The other player I'm expecting strides from is Turk McBride. He's got the same sort of team-first, hard-worker attitude Pollard brings. He's been working out with Jared Allen in Arizona this offseason, and at times last year he flashed that three-technique, interior pass rush the Chiefs need. McBride might not be an every down starter, but I think he'll be a great pass-rush specialist at defensive tackle for years to come.

Who do you see stepping up from last year on the offensive line? Is there anyone with the potential or the work ethic to make it to the starting lineup?

Nick Athan: I already mentioned Niswanger, but another wild card is Herb Taylor. The former sixth-round pick has talent, but didn't get an opportunity last season. I'm not sure he's going to be a guard or a tackle in the NFL, but he can play the game. A few weeks ago Herm Edwards told me he would get a shot.

Is Herb ready to spice up KC's offense?
Getty Images

Michael Ash: I already mentioned Niswanger, and I liked what we saw last season in the admittedly brief glimpse we got of Herb Taylor. He could be in the mix to start as early as this season. The hype around Will Svitek has completely died down, but don't count him out in the battle for the right tackle spot.

C.E. Wendler: Herb Taylor held his own in training camp last year, and when he was forced into spot duty at left tackle against the Detroit Lions, he wasn't a complete turnstile (ala Will Svitek). Who knows where he fits, but anyone who's watched him closely understands why he was a brick wall at TCU.

As for Rudy Niswanger, at the moment he's penciled in as the starting center. That's already impressive for a guy who barely played a year ago.

What is your feel for the emotion in the Chiefs organization? Do you sense a genuine excitement this year? Do you feel an honest optimism for the addition of Chan Gailey? Is it more of a long-term optimism or a short term excitement?

Nick Athan: There's an excitement partly because of the unknown. The pressure is on head coach Herm Edwards, who has what he wants - a chance to rebuild the roster from the ground up. No more stale air from the Vermeil era.

But there is definitely a sense of excitement. I've talked to most of the coaching staff and one of them in particular, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, believes this team is much closer than most believe.

Michael Ash: When you listen to Herm Edwards talk, I think the excitement and the optimism he feels towards rebuilding the team and relying on young players really comes through. I would imagine anyone in the organization who agrees with Herm's philosophy is feeling the same way

C.E. Wendler: Of course there's excitement. The Chiefs have nowhere to go but up. There's always going to be optimism when the man running the show is Herm Edwards. He's the embodiment of the daily affirmation in NFL coaching ("the Chiefs are good enough, we're smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like us!").

But Herm has the coaches he wants, and they're 100 percent behind him. It was Gunther who said, a few months ago, "our only job is to protect the head coach at all costs." That's optimistic groupthink, for better or for worse, within the organization. Whether it's long-term or short-term depends on how the Chiefs do the next couple of years.

What do you expect from Larry Johnson this year? I think he has all of the talent in the world and given a legitimate chance he can do some real damage. I don't think it is a fluke that when he went down we lost the rest of our games.

Nick Athan: He is the heart and soul of KC's offense. If Johnson scores enough touchdowns and puts up enough 100-yard games, the Chiefs' offense will score plenty of points in 2008. Johnson is ready to go. He'll take it easy in OTAs and the early stages of training camp, but that means Kolby Smith will get more practice time and his emergence will ultimately make this offense better.

Johnson has the ability to put this team on his back and I think he's ready for that challenge. I could not say that a year ago, but I think he discovered how much he missed the game during his injury.

Michael Ash: I expect a large chip to return to Johnson's shoulder after his disappointing 2007 season. I think he'll have more faith in Chan Gailey than he ever had in Mike Solari, which should be reflected in the effort he gives. But so much depends on the offensive line, so it's hard to predict what kind of season he'll have.

Will Larry Johnson return to form this year?
Johnathan Daniel - Getty

C.E. Wendler: As one of Larry Johnson's few die-hard fans, it's difficult for me to admit this, but here goes – Johnson could fail in his 2008 comeback bid.

It's not a question of his heart, talent or desire. When a running back busts a tread, it should be treated as a serious, serious injury. Larry's feet take more abuse than any other pair of dogs on KC's roster. Larry's feet are his bread and butter. Larry's feet, if not healthy, render him useless.

What happens the first time a 350-pound defensive tackle stomps on Johnson's right foot? What happens when he sees someone coming up from behind him to make a tackle, as AJ Hawk did last year when he injured Johnson? Will he hesitate in his next move, afraid of re-injuring his foot?

There are plenty of questions about Larry Johnson in 2008. If his foot survives the pounding of 16 games, he's good for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. If not, I'll get out my Kleenex again.

On a more technical note, it sure would be nice if Johnson figured out his pass blocking this year.

What is your professional opinion on trading down in the first round and selecting guard Branden Albert, and then using the second-round pick on the best offensive tackle available?

Nick Athan: I like Albert and he could very much be the guy. Some people say he's the second best lineman next to Jake Long. Is he worth the fifth overall pick? If he can keep Croyle upright he is.

But if I were the Chiefs, I'd trade down four or five slots and pick up an extra third-round pick before trading the pick again and trying and snag a late second-round pick. The Chiefs will have their choice of three or four offensive linemen in the middle of the first round, and they could also snag a cornerback. If they keep the pick, I suspect it'll be Albert and another tackle in round two before moving to corner and wide receiver in rounds three and four.

Michael Ash: If those are the best possible choices when the Chiefs make their picks, it would be a great start to the draft. But if you're asking whether I think the Chiefs should zero in on those options regardless of what other players may be available, I'd say that would be an enormous mistake. This team has needs everywhere - they can't afford to target one area at the expense of everything else.

C.E. Wendler: I'm completely opposed to trading down. The Chiefs need the dynamite player a top-five pick brings. Whether it's Jake Long, Sedrick Ellis, Glenn Dorsey or Matt Ryan, it doesn't matter. If all four are gone (I'm even more opposed to drafting Darren McFadden), then you might pull the trigger on a trade.

I do, however, like the thought of drafting a road-grading run-blocker to man the left tackle position – someone like Albert. If you can get a player like that and pick up an extra choice in the second or third round, it's hard to be disappointed.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories