13 Kansas City Chiefs Who Must Stay Healthy in 2012
If Kansas City Chiefs fans learned anything from their 2011 season, it is the fact that injuries can take a toll on a team. Just look at the AFC West standings.
The Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers all finished with an 8-8 record to end the season. The Chiefs finished in last place, but they wrapped up their season with a 7-9 record, only one game behind first place.
Imagine if the Chiefs had quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry. Three of the four players listed played in the Pro Bowl prior to suffering their injuries.
If the Chiefs had a 2011 season in which their key players were healthy, like they did in 2010, they could have won more than eight games.
But things did not go their way. Now, they have to make sure their players stay healthy in 2012 to give themselves the best chance at winning the AFC West and returning to the playoffs.
Here are the 13 players who must stay healthy for the Chiefs this season.
QB Matt Cassel
Cassel needs to make sure he stays healthy for the 2012 season. In past years when he has missed games, unreliable backups, such as Brodie Croyle and Tyler Palko, have stepped in but were not successful in helping the Chiefs move forward.
Granted, current backups Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi might not be as bad, but they could still struggle with some inexperience coming into 2012. Quinn has not taken a regular season snap in over two years, and Stanzi, who was a rookie last year, has not snapped the football in a regular season contest.
Losing Cassel to injury would force the Chiefs to move forward with a quarterback who has had no NFL activity in recent years.
RBs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis
Some fans might think that Dexter McCluster or rookie Cyrus Gray could step in if the Chiefs suffer another big injury at the running back position. But let's face it: McCluster and Gray are not enough to make up for the loss of either Charles or newly acquired powerback Peyton Hillis.
The Chiefs finished No. 1 in rushing two seasons ago because they had two dominant rushers to move the ball.
The Chiefs again have that opportunity to help them win games—something not many teams have. But in order to be successful, both Charles and Hillis must remain healthy to help the Chiefs not only return to the playoffs but surprise some teams in order to make a deep run.
WR Jonathan Baldwin
Jonathan Baldwin was fortunate enough that his off-the-field injury last year was not enough to keep him out of football for all of 2011.
However, missing a majority of training camp and the early goings of the season prevented him from showing off his talent. Playing with three different starting quarterbacks also played a big factor.
But what if Baldwin and Cassel spend all of OTAs and training camp together and stay healthy throughout the regular season?
So far, they have both successfully completed OTAs. This was not done last year due to the lockout. If Baldwin stays with the team throughout training camp and the preseason, he and Cassel could develop a connection going into September 9, when the Chiefs open up the season against the Atlanta Falcons.
By that point, provided things go well, we'll finally know what Baldwin can do in the NFL, making his rookie campaign a memory.
TE Kevin Boss
To state the obvious, Moeaki is injury prone. But the Chiefs think they have found the solution to making sure that he does not miss any games. By adding Kevin Boss, Moeaki won't carry the load as much. They can split playing time and responsibilities to help make sure Moeaki can avoid visiting the trainer's office.
If Boss happens to miss a lot of games, the pressure could build on Moeaki to help the team as the full-time tight end.
NT Dontari Poe
Dontari Poe will have to play a big role during his rookie season. Being in the middle of a defensive line and playing in the 3-4 scheme, Poe can make the players around him better—just like how defensive ends can help the outside linebackers.
Poe could also develop into a special nose tackle, just like the players Crennel previously coached in Vince Wilfork and Shaun Rogers. Poe has the potential to be the league's next top nose tackle.
ILB Derrick Johnson
Derrick Johnson continues to evolve as one of the league's top linebackers. Last year, Johnson came away with 131 total tackles and collected over 100 tackles for the second-consecutive season.
Behind Johnson, the Chiefs don't have much talent with their interior linebackers. As he excels, Johnson is another player the Chiefs need to stay healthy.
OLBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston
Hali has been one of the best at terrorizing quarterbacks, while Houston stepped up in the latter parts of his rookie campaign. The pass-rushing duo combined for 17.5 sacks in 2011. Now that Houston is the projected starter for the Chiefs early in the season, just how scary will the two be for 16 games?
The Chiefs need both players in order to dominate and become one of the best defensive teams in the NFL this year.
CB Brandon Flowers and S Eric Berry
Brandon Flowers and Berry have a chance to be one of the league's top cornerback-safety duos. The two combined for seven interceptions in their first year together.
After Berry tore his ACL and was out for the season after one game last year, the two were on the field together for less than five minutes.
In a game where turnovers are critical, the Chiefs have a shot at winning a lot of games because of defensive backs like Flowers and Berry.
The two defensive backs know that the front seven will put opposing quarterbacks under pressure. This forces quarterbacks to get rid of the ball sooner than they want to, and as spectators know, those passes can lead to interceptions.
P Dustin Colquitt K Ryan Succop
The Chiefs are confident in their punting and kicking games with Dustin Colquitt and Ryan Succop.
Colquitt has been reliable for the Chiefs since coming into the league out of Tennessee.
When Colquitt was absent for two games in 2008, the Chiefs picked up Steve Weatherford to cover for him during that time. But Colquitt was greatly missed after Weatherford came away with a whopping net average of 27.8 yards.
Since Colquitt has been with the Chiefs, most of his punts and handles on field goals have been clean.
Succop connected on 21-consecutive field goals last year to help the Chiefs when their offense struggled to put touchdowns on the scoreboard.
Most punters and kickers get signed before the season kicks off. If a punter or a kicker gets hurt and is gone for the season, it is rare that a team can find a viable option through free agency.