CEW. Cassel has had his struggles early on. I think mostly it had a lot to do with his supporting cast learning the new offense. Compared to the offense the Chiefs had been running under Herm Edwards, Haley's attack probably resembles astrophysics. The Chiefs have had players lining up wrong all offseason, things of that nature. The good news, however, is that Cassel played quite well in both preseason outings so far. He's been accurate, composed and has made all the right decisions.
I'm probably biased, but yes, I do see him as a potential franchise quarterback. I studied what he did in New England carefully this offseason and came away impressed with his smarts, athleticism and again, accuracy. In his limited time as a Chief, those same traits have shown up again. A lot of people questioned Scott Pioli's decision to give him the largest contract in Chiefs' history ($63 million), but as hard as he works, I see it as a great investment. And we're not talking about a player with a bad attitude here, ala Jay Cutler, either. There was little risk involved in this deal, in my opinion, unlike a rookie quarterback.
DF: Last year, Jamaal Charles picked up 5.3 yards per carry in limited duty. Do you see him picking up more work this year and taking over for Larry Johnson, or will it be more of a committee?
CEW. Charles has to work on his ball security before he even thinks about cutting into Johnson's carries. He was fumble-prone in college, it was an issue last year, and it's been an issue this preseason. Last week he fumbled the ball on a play where no defender even touched him. Charles' other issue is the fact he's always been a little nicked up. Johnson's never had that issue. So again, Charles has some hurdles to overcome if he's going to supplant LJ as the Chiefs' main running back.
I do see the Chiefs increasing Charles' role. He reported to camp in great shape and added a few pounds of muscle without losing speed. If he stays healthy, I could see him taking about 125 carries, with Johnson carrying the real load. Charles will be more of a threat in the passing game - I'm anticipating at least 35 catches, and I suspect the Chiefs would like about 50 out of him. He's a mismatch against any linebacker in the open field.
DF: We know that Cassel won't have Randy Moss and Wes Welker in Kansas City, but who does he have, and how good are they? Dwayne Bowe has been a "breakout candidate" for a long time – is this the year he takes that step?
CEW. I think most Chiefs fans are somewhat satisifed with Bowe's first two seasons, especially considering who was throwing the ball. Between Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen, there was a lack of consistency, and in Thigpen's case, a lack of accuracy, especially down the field. Todd Haley worked on Bowe hard this offseason, and so far it appears he's changed for the better. If Cassel and Bowe both stay healthy, and Bowe can get over the drop issues he had last season (he dropped 13 passes), 1,300 yards is definitely within reach. The good news on that front is that Bowe has not dropped a pass this preseason.
As far as other targets, the Chiefs have looked low and high for quality receivers. They're counting on Bobby Engram to be the slot receiver and third-down specialist, but he hasn't caught a pass this preseason. Rookie Quinten Lawrence has speed, but has had an up-and-down preseason so far, and probably isn't ready for extended game action. Mark Bradley had a good game last week, but of course has always had injury issues. Because of their lack of quality receivers, I suspect the Chiefs may feature the ground game more than Haley did with the Cardinals.
DF: How is Kansas City's defensive personnel adjusting to the 3-4 defense? Are they running a base 3-4, or it more of the hybrid we'd expect from Clancy Pendergast? Who is standing out, and who's having trouble? How is Glenn Dorsey doing?
CEW. Surprisingly, early returns are positive. Tamba Hali has lost weight and looks somewhat decent at outside linebacker. He won't be asked to drop in coverage much in the 4-3 Under (a 3-4/4-3 hybrid), in his "Predator" role, which is mainly a pass-rushing assignment. And to answer your other question, yes, the hybrid has been featured more than the standard 2-gap 3-4 for now.
The Chiefs may have some issues with finding the right nose tackle, but they appear at least competent at the other positions. Glenn Dorsey isn't a traditional 3-4 defensive end, but in the 4-3 Under he'll be playing more of a three-technique role, which suits him (now he just needs to stay healthy). Rookie ends Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee are well suited to the scheme. The Chiefs may attempt to use Derrick Johnson in a role similar to the one Karlos Dansby thrived in with the Cardinals a year ago. He has comparable speed and athleticism, and if the scheme allows him to run free, it might be just what he needs to finally have a breakout season.
DF: We know that we'll see more of the starters in the third preseason game – who are some of the Chiefs to watch for? Who's been impressing so far in games and practices?
CEW. The Chiefs really need to get the ground game going against the Seahawks. It was spotty against the Texans and horrible against the Vikings. Anticipate at least 10 carries for Larry Johnson, who came in and out of the game last week in the first half. Dwayne Bowe should finally get his first preseason start this week. He's been on the bench and entering games late recently as part of Haley's motivational tactics.
On defense, look out for a guy named Corey Mays. The Chiefs picked him up in free agency this offseason and he's really come out of nowhere to impress a lot of people at middle linebacker, subbing for the injured Zach Thomas. The best player on KC's defense right now might be cornerback Brandon Flowers. He had a great rookie year and he'll try to get his hands on the ball. And look out for rookie kicker Ryan Succop's leg. He can put a charge in the ball.