Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is going to have his plays called by coach Todd Haley this year, not former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
John Crist: Quarterback Matt Cassel was up and down his first season in Kansas City, but he ended up firing 27 touchdown passes in 2010 in an AFC West-winning performance. Do you expect the offense to open up more for him this year, or is he still more of a "game manager"?
Nick Athan: I think the offense has to expand if Cassel is going to repeat his Pro Bowl year in 2010. However, there are two overriding positives and one negative factor that will likely determine if Cassel can grow into a consistent starter. The addition of Jon Baldwin, the team's first-round pack in April, certainly gives the Chiefs one more weapon for Cassel to make plays down the field. Last year, Dwayne Bowe came out of nowhere to join Cassel in Hawaii.
At one point, Bowe was the best receiver in the NFL a year ago. But he disappeared down the stretch and in the playoffs. The addition of Baldwin and a bigger workload from running back Jamaal Charles should propel bigger things for the offense. However, in order for that to happen, the Chiefs offense has to overcome the loss of last year's offensive guru, Charlie Weis. Coach Todd Haley's going to call the plays this season, and there are many who believe that's a mistake. He tried it in 2009 and failed miserably.
JC: Take us back to the NFL Draft. Who was your favorite of Kansas City's picks? Least favorite? Did the team properly address its biggest needs and get good value with each selection? If you had been in the war room, is there anything you would have done differently?
NA: My favorite pick was Justin Houston from Georgia. There was NO question that he was a first-round talent, and if he's paired opposite last year's AFC sack master, Tamba Hali, the two could form a dynamite tandem and make the Chiefs a top-10 defense in 2011. To me, Houston, who will come to the Chiefs highly motivated after slipping into Round 3, has all the tools to be a terrific NFL player. There is no doubt that the additions of Houston, center Rodney Hudson and defensive tackle Jerrell Powe are going to make huge impacts, but I'm a little perplexed at the pick of Oregon linebacker Gabe Miller in Round 5. When a team drafts a player that wasn't even ranked in the top 50 at his position, you have to wonder what impact he's going to make in 2011 or 2012.
JC: Usually we have free agency and then the draft, but this year -- eventually -- it's going to be the other way around. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, what position would you most like to see the Chiefs address in free agency, and who could be a possible target?
NA: Kansas City still needs another slot receiver. The Dexter McCluster experiment failed last year, and there is talk he could be moved primarily to backup running back. If that's the case, the Chiefs have to find a third receiver that can ease the transition of Baldwin and the double teams expected to fall upon Bowe. It would be a very easy assumption that if the Chiefs feel the same way that they could make a run for Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston. Sure, the Chiefs would love to pry his teammate, Larry Fitzgerald, away from Arizona, but that's not going to happen. Adding Breaston would make a lot of sense for the Chiefs, though.
On defense, Kansas City must find a blue-chip inside linebacker to play next to Derrick Johnson. Last year, Johnson rose from the ashes of Haley's doghouse and had one of his best seasons as a Chief. The team has soured on Jovan Belcher and would like to land his replacement in free agency or via trade, and one name that we keep hearing is Nick Barnett, the inside linebacker from the Packers. Kansas City is also reportedly interested in bringing in former Jets linebacker Vernon Gholston.
JC: On the offensive side of the ball, the ground game was so strong last year with Charles and Thomas Jones sharing the load. While Jones is a dependable veteran, Charles could be special one day. Will there be a durability issue if his workload increases?
NA: I'm not a fan of the Chiefs relying on Jones in 2011. He wore down considerably in the second half of the season, and he was relied upon far too much in short-yardage situations. If Weis made a singular mistake last season, it was reluctance to put the ball into the hands of the Chiefs' best offensive weapon: Charles. Case in point, in the AFC playoff loss to Baltimore, Charles ran the ball just nine times. I'd rather see the Chiefs add a younger, more physical backup in free agency. And should a player like the Raiders' Michael Bush be available, the Chiefs would be wise to add his talents to the offense.
Jones is a great locker-room guy. He's solid in the workout room, in the film room and in the huddle, but he can't be the man in short-yardage situations in 2011 and beyond. But Haley has already stated he's going to be back next season and will be a big part of the offense.
JC: Defensively, there hasn't been very much return on the big investments made in defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. A gap-eating nose tackle might make it easier on them, but that remains to be seen. Is it too late for these guys to develop into difference makers?
NA: With the addition of Powe via April's NFL Draft, that should solve the space-eating issue along the Chiefs defensive line. But this is a make-or-break year for Jackson. I still don't think he's a a fit for the Chiefs defense. And when GM Scott Pioli drafted University of Miami defensive end Allen Bailey in Round 3, that told me Jackson was going to have to show he was worthy of being the third-overall selection back in 2009. He has all the physical tools to be a dominating defensive end, but his instincts for the game aren't strong.
But the same can't be said for Dorsey. To me, he was the team's best defensive lineman last season. He's never going to be a sack master, but he's solid against the run and can on occasion get to the quarterback. Still, that means the maturation of Jackson is even more critical in 2011. The Chiefs can't carry two defensive ends that can't sack the quarterback. One is workable, but two will bring down this defense. That's why I think Bailey will move into a starter's role by midseason.
That means both Jackson and Dorsey are on the clock.For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Chiefs, visit WarpaintIllustrated.com.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Nick Athan is the publisher of Warpaint Illustrated and WarpaintIllustrated.com.|