While many feel that Barack Obama is soon to inherit the most challenging job in America, there are many loyal fans of the Kansas City Chiefs who understand what Scott Pioli is stepping into.
This article is not a two-paragraph excuse to increase my number of articles written, but rather, the following is a reasonably in-depth analysis of the Chiefs situation.
On one hand the Chiefs organization is primed for a quick turnaround as a team that fielded more players under the age of 25 on their active roster than any other team in football and started more rookies than any other team in the league.
However, the two most prevalent names in recent Chiefs history, Tony Gonzalez and Larry Johnson have both verbalized their discontent to varying degrees and with varying levels of classiness (or classlessness).
Pioli's greatest challenge is ensuring the Chiefs maintain their integrity and despite recent records stay present in people's and players minds as a highly respectable organization that lives up to its rich football heritage, reaches out to their zealous fan base and provides a place where talented players want to come to play as a team.
With the grumblings of superstars including a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, this offseason provides a debacle in keeping the Chiefs name a good one.
Record this season aside, the organization still has a lot to offer and going forward this will become more evident beginning with next year's postseason.
Looking only at player personnel lets see what pieces Pioli has to work with.
The strength of the Kansas City defense is in the secondary where the team has built through the draft and benefited from late-round draft surprises including starting safety Jarrad Page as a seventh rounder out of UCLA, and a rookie starting corner with Brandon Carr taken in the fifth round of '08 out of Grand Valley State.
Bernard Pollard was selected in the second round out of Purdue the same year as Page, and Brandon Flowers out of Virginia Tech provides a second starting corner entering his second year.
Flowers did not blow up the combine, but appears to be an excellent tackler and a true student of the game. He reminds me of a former stand-out Chiefs corner—James Hasty, who played opposite the more naturally gifted Dale Carter, but proved the more effective player and survived a career into what are considered twilight years for corners because of his mind for the game.
With free-agent pick up Maurice Legget filling in at Nickelback and winning the Chiefs Mack Lee Hill award, the secondary is one to watch develop with pride.
The Chiefs can use significant help at linebacker. It was good to see Donnie Edwards back in a Chiefs uniform, but his skills are diminishing quickly. Derrick Johnson is a true talent, but hasn't put up a 100 yard tackle season.
However, this guy is a play maker who I would love to see utilized in more blitz packages as he can bring speed off the edge, but he has grown in his pass coverage skills. All the more reason to mix it up the blitz, man, and zone with a player who can hold his own in all three.
Looking at the rest of the Chiefs line backing corp is as pleasant as staring into the sun. An overpaid, under-achieving Napoleon Harris? Why would the team pay for a guy the Raiders cast away? Pat Thomas? Demorrio Williams provides some relief given his century mark tackle year with the Falcons, but this group has got to be shaken up.
With that said, I'd like to see a Chiefs defense that resembles the 1997 team when the Chiefs went 13-3.
Gunther Cunningham was around then and while the team had only ten sacks there were a lot of turnovers. I don't know exactly how the defense game plans, but more variety that capitalizes on the talent the team possesses to offset some of the holes.
The defensive line is in shambles. Most Chief fans shudder at the mention of Ryan Sims, a sixth overall pick at defensive tackle who held out in contract negotiations, showed up to camp overweight, and broke his arm early in his rookie year, only to be cut in the years not long after.
I'm not saying this is Glenn Dorsey, but I had hoped for more and fans may have witnessed glimpses of monstrous talent over the last few weeks of the season. Tamba Hali is a decent talent in a supporting role.
A No. 2 defensive end who can average 5-9 sacks a season is great, but he is not a dominant threat who demands double teams and will still achieve those kinds of numbers if not better.
Tank Tyler and Turk McBride provide steady talent to rotate in. Although, McBride is not the typical build for any one defensive line position and Tyler, while being freakishly strong doesn't quite clog the middle against the run.
A pick like Brian Orakpo, defensive end out of Texas with the number three pick could be a huge benefit to a team that needs to overcome a dismal ten sack season. (Derrick Thomas once had six in a game.)
The big question is whether the team continues to incorporate the spread offense or variations of it (e.g. the pistol) for Tyler Thigpen or whether the team pursues a new quarterback.
There is already much debate about whether or not Thigpen is the quarterback of the future, but with so many top college quarterbacks going back for more education lets hold our horses on handing the keys to the team over. Quarterback is far from the Chiefs worst position.
Thigpen is perfectly suitable for the time being and may impress at greater levels than he has already. I don't believe he's a quarterback that on a different team would be in the Super Bowl tomorrow, but he could develop into one who could make an appearance there someday. Even if most think that appearance will be as a backup.
Jamaal Charles is fun to watch, but viewers end up watching him limp off the field every six carries or so. L.J. is a huge contract that takes up space and his attitude is detrimental to a young team trying to gel.
I'm not sure what the Chiefs can do with him, but I will argue that most running backs have a three-year plateau they hit in the NFL. That upon completion of their best three seasons the great majority of running backs may continue to solidly contribute, but will never return to top form.
This is attributable to the brutality of play at the NFL level. How many times could you get back up from a hit by a juiced up Shawne Merriman. Priest Holmes didn't think very many.
Larry Johnson should recognize that he most helps this team averaging about 18 carries a game and sharing the rest with backs who can catch or add a better breakaway speed dynamic.
Michael Bradley was a surprise mid season pick-up and Dwayne Bowe is a future star if he eliminates some of the drops. Bowe's greatest asset is his ability to create yards after the catch.
However, the key to the receiving corp will remain Gonzalez as long as he wants to stay on the field in a red uniform with an arrow on the side of the helmet. Gonzalez is a player who deserves to play for whatever team he would like as shown by the fans who brought "Free Gonzalez" signs to games.
If I must see him go I volunteer my skills at karaoke with a rendition of "I Will Remember You." Brad Cottam is 6'7" and an exciting prospect, but every time I hear heir apparent my heart drops.
How does an offensive line lose two hall of famers and hold their own? They don't. Brian Waters is a pro bowl guy and I cannot shout the praises of Branden Albert enough. Here's a rookie that was moved from guard to left tackle and he accomplished the goal of every great offensive linemen: you almost never heard the announcers say his name.
This tacit appreciation of strong play is the closest thing to praise most offensive linemen will get. The rest of the line needs serious help. Right guard, right tackle, and center need replacements. I like Herb Taylor to rotate in, but I only want to see hims tart when someone is hurt, so hopefully not often.
Connor Barth was solid as a rookie kicker. He was everything most had hoped Justin Medlock would be. A failed pick ventured on Medlock, a rookie out of UCLA proved foolish, but the free agent Barth has been a pleasant surprise going 10 for 12 on field goals as a rookie.
Dustin Colquit may be a punter, but he was nearly the team's MVP. The return game is better than when Eddie Drummond was back there, but is still far from good.
Everyone will talk about Herm Edwards in the days to come, but the story goes much deeper in Kansas City. To look at any one man as the problem or the answer is an oversimplification, but certainly things may very likely get better.
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