Training Camp Questions – Part I

In 10 days the Chiefs will finally crack helmets in River Falls. From that point onward, Head Coach Todd Haley and General Manager Scott Pioli will have just a few weeks to sort out lingering questions about their 2009 squad. If the Chiefs are to have any hope of competing this season, the majority must be answered in that time span.

Over the next two weeks we'll look at the most important questions that must be answered. Hopefully Haley and Pioli have a little more insight into the answers than we do.


Is Matt Cassel the franchise quarterback we think he is?

There are plenty of positives where Cassel is concerned. We've already explored his consistent, accurate, smart play in our ongoing series, Cassel Chronicles, but can he replicate it in Kansas City? There is no shortage of Tyler Thigpen supporters among Chiefs fans, and our good buddy Jason Whitlock recently credited Randy Moss for Cassel's success a year ago. The real issue here sprang up during KC's OTA sessions this offseason, however.

There was no shortage of afternoons where the defense appeared to be ahead of the offense. That's not uncommon at this stage of the year, but Cassel did throw a few interceptions, and there were afternoons where Thigpen was reportedly impressive.

Right now there's not much to any of this. No one will care about OTAs or Randy Moss if Cassel has a good training camp and a solid preseason. But if the development of KC's passing attack continues at a slow pace and Cassel has a few rough practices in River Falls, people will start to wonder.

This is the biggest and most important question of the offseason. If the Chiefs miraculously fix their defense this year only to see Cassel bust, the season will be seen by many as a failure.


Do the Chiefs have a right tackle?

Remarkably, Damion McIntosh actually started 16 games last season, although that may have just opened him up for more criticism. According to Football Outsiders, no Chiefs lineman was beaten more than McIntosh a year ago, and he ranked among the NFL's top 20 players in blown blocks.

Apparently that was just fine with Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, who wasted no time in making him the starter in offseason practices. The Chiefs drafted Missouri's Colin Brown in April, but is he ready to challenge a 32-year old veteran at this stage of his career? It doesn't seem likely.

Kansas City's lack of urgency in trying to find a new starting right tackle indicates one of two things. Either they're comfortable with McIntosh, who did improve as the season progressed last year, or they don't consider the position to be all that vital in year one of the roster rebuild. Obviously you can't fix everything in one offseason.

This question is connected in an intriguing way to the next one, concerning the pass rush. If the Chiefs find a competent right tackle in training camp, shouldn't he handle the lackluster pass-rush options on the roster quite easily? Maybe so, but what happens if he's beaten soundly in preseason by another team's star defensive end or outside linebacker? Things could get interesting.


Where is Kansas City's pass rush coming from?

Do the Chiefs have a plan to get to the quarterback this year? If there is one, it sure isn't obvious, because plenty of Chiefs fans are wondering about it. The average fan sees an old player (Mike Vrabel), a disappointing former first-round pick making a position change (Tamba Hali), an underachieving second-round pick also making a position change (Turk McBride), and a journeyman lunch-pail type player (Monty Beisel).

Then there are unknowns – Pierre Walters, Andy Studebaker – who may not even make the final roster. Or they could blow up and surprise us all. Only the talent evaluators at Arrowhead really know what they're capable of.

We could discuss the Chiefs' defensive ends and inside linebackers, but as everyone knows, in the 3-4 the outside linebackers are supposed to be your star pass rushers. If the Chiefs don't find a player who can rush from those positions consistently this season, it will likely cause major problems.


Do the Chiefs have a reliable in-the-box safety?

Chiefs' defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast relied heavily on Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson a year ago with the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson was one of only three safeties in the NFL with a stop rate greater than 50 percent (again, we refer to Football Outsiders). When it came to run support, there were few better.

Is there a comparable player in Kansas City? We already know the Chiefs' starting safeties, Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard, have struggled immensely with their tackling in the past. Chicago import Mike Brown is known as a good tackler and smart run-support safety, but his injury-filled history raises the question of whether or not he'll even be on the field to make tackles.

With a young defensive line and a scheme change, there will probably be a few holes for opposing running backs to find this season. Good safety play could go a long way towards keeping bad plays from being horrendous, game-changing plays. Unfortunately, the low-contact nature of training camp may prevent us from finding out the answer to this question until preseason arrives.

Next week: Glenn Dorsey, the Chiefs' receivers, the kicking battle and special teams.

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