7 Kansas City Chiefs That Must Step Up and Improve in 2012
After a momentous and awe-inspiring 2010 season, the Kansas City Chiefs took a big step back in 2011, when it was expected that the team would improve and build off what they put together the season before.
Several players did not live up to expectations, nor did they live up to their potential. There are also a couple of Chiefs who are good but have the ability to perform even better, as you will soon read about.
As always, share your thoughts below. Do you agree with this list? Should another player be added on?
QB Matt Cassel
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Despite having a shortened season, Matt Cassel took a huge step back from 2010. Everyone remembers his 27:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio as it earned him a Pro Bowl spot as a reserve.
Cassel played in only nine games in 2011 due to a season-ending hand injury. Even so, Cassel still exceeded his interception total from the season before and was on pace to throw for more than double the amount he had.
The Chiefs made an attempt to sign Peyton Manning before he went to the Denver Broncos. Outside of that, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli did not have interest in another quarterback. Instead, he brought in running back Peyton Hillis, tight end Kevin Boss and offensive tackle Eric Winston through free agency.
Cassel will also have running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki back on the roster as all three of them were placed on the injured reserve last year.
Cassel has a lot of weapons on offense. This is his last chance at being a starting quarterback in Kansas City. The Chiefs can only be just as good as Cassel is in 2012.
RB/WR/KR Dexter McCluster
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In his two years with the Chiefs, McCluster has had 132 carries, 67 catches and 70 returns. He has done a little bit of everything on offense and special teams.
For a high second-round pick, McCluster has not lived up to his potential as it is revealed that he has tremendous speed. Last season, McCluster had the team's highest yard per carry average after an injury to Charles created a thin backfield. This season, McCluster may not get that opportunity if Charles and Hillis remain healthy in the backfield.
No matter what role he is given this season, McCluster must find a way to utilize his speed and excel to help the Chiefs in 2012.
WR Dwayne Bowe
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It has been an interesting career for Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. He has gone through multiple position coaches, offensive coordinators and head coaches with the Chiefs since coming out of LSU in 2007.
Many Bowe apologists may point out that he has three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and had a remarkable 2010 season with 15 touchdown receptions. But those numbers can certainly look better.
Last season, Bowe caught four touchdown grabs in Weeks 3 through 5. Although he helped pick up the Chiefs from their rough 0-3 start, he was not given a new extension. After his two-touchdown game against the Indianapolis Colts, Bowe did not catch another touchdown for nine games and did not have a 100-yard game for the remainder of the season.
One might defend Bowe and say that he had three different starting quarterbacks. But that is no excuse for his crucial drop in the end zone against the Oakland Raiders in Week 16. Bowe could have had a two-touchdown game and possibly helped the Chiefs win the AFC West.
Right now, Bowe is under the franchise tag and wants a lot of money. Pioli feels Bowe is not worthy of being one of the richest receivers in the league, but he knows Bowe can improve if he erases his drop habits and lives up to his potential.
WR Jonathan Baldwin
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Jonathan Baldwin learned his lesson during his rookie season after an off-the-field altercation with former Chiefs running back Thomas Jones caused him to suffer an injury, missing the first five games of the season.
Now that teams have OTAs and a non-compressed training camp, unlike last year with the lockout, Baldwin must take advantage of this by creating chemistry with Cassel and getting a grasp of Brian Daboll's offense.
If Baldwin can keep his head down and just play football, it will prove that 2011 was a big learning experience for him.
DE Tyson Jackson
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Pioli's first draft pick as the Chiefs general manager came in 2009 with the third pick when the team took defensive end Tyson Jackson. Even though the 2009 draft class is becoming one of the worst the league has seen, Pioli could have used that third overall pick on another player.
This offseason, Pioli realized Jackson has not lived up to his expectations and restructured his contract. Jackson might do better with a better defensive line after the Chiefs took Dontari Poe in the draft.
For now, Jackson must step up if he wants to keep his starting spot.
ILB Jovan Belcher
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Ever since Kansas City switched to the 3-4 defense, Jovan Belcher signed as an undrafted free agent and has been very active with the Chiefs linebacking corps.
Belcher’s tackle total is going up every season, but with one sack and one forced fumble in three seasons, he has not given the impression that he is as good as most of the starting linebackers in the league.
There was speculation that the Chiefs would go after linebacker Luke Kuechly in the draft, but Kuechly was taken before the 11th pick and the Chiefs were eying Poe the entire time.
This offseason, Belcher signed his restricted free-agent tender and will earn $1,972,000. If Belcher is being paid almost $2 million, he will have to make more plays and continue to improve his tackle total. With Poe playing up front at nose tackle, it may happen.
CB Brandon Flowers
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Brandon Flowers is not on this list because he is a bad player. Flowers has been a serviceable cornerback for the Chiefs, but he certainly has the ability to be better.
Even though he is a good defender and one of the better open field tacklers among cornerbacks in the league, he needs to come up with more takeaways as a cornerback.
Flowers has had only six interceptions in the last two seasons. In 2010, Flowers had an interception in Week 2 and Week 3 but never recorded another one in the season. In 2011, he had only four picks but helped the Chiefs in field position as he finished 12th in return yards off interceptions.
After the season opener in 2011, Pioli signed Flowers to a five-year contract extension worth $50 million.
Flowers has one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston improved in the second half of the season. If those two continue to cause problems for quarterbacks in the pocket, Flowers could come up with more interceptions with some ill-advised passes thrown his way.
Now that he is making big money, it should be expected of him to make more plays as a defender.