The Kansas City Chiefs entered training camp last week with as many questions as they had answers—some weighing heavier than others, while most qualified as the classic areas of focus as a new season lurks just around the corner.
Following a spectacular offseason in which general manager Scott Pioli vigilantly plugged the leaking holes on the Chiefs’ roster, the one move that keeps the eyes of those in and around the organization pried wide open is having not signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a contract extension. As a result, the team placed the franchise tag on the wideout, which he has yet to sign.
After stating that he would be present for training camp, it was believed that everything would be kosher between Bowe and the Chiefs when the season started. But as days turn and Bowe’s absences continue to mount, the perception of him continues to sour.
No one can question Bowe’s importance to the Chiefs since entering the league as a first-round pick back in 2007. The only questions there have been have surrounded his character and drive, two points weighing heavily on his value to the organization going forward—and only heightened by him not being at camp.
So on those same days that Bowe is a no-show, second-year wide receiver Jon Baldwin is taking full advantage of his opportunities to leave his off-putting past in the rear-view mirror.
Baldwin, too, has had his fair share of bumps in the road to start his career (namely an altercation with Thomas Jones that caused him to miss most of an already abbreviated camp and the first six games of last season with a fractured wrist). However, coming back in shape and willing to gain his foothold from the back of the depth chart certainly left a positive mark. And it is definitely carrying over into 2012.
When asked what has stuck out in training camp, Jason Madson of KCChiefsDraft.com had this to say about Baldwin:
What's stood out about Baldwin to me is his attitude. Last year I had the opportunity to interview him before the NFL Draft. I remember saying after that chat with him that somebody is getting an immature headache. He proved me right last year.
This camp he seems focused on his work. Maybe the absence of Dwayne Bowe has been good for him, I don't know. But he seems to have matured in just one year and accepted his role as top dog WR.
Top dog is a lofty label for a player that has yet to play a full season in the NFL, but the potential is undoubtedly there with Baldwin. Furthermore, is it possible that he is making Bowe more expendable as the Chiefs inch closer to the season?
Baldwin’s emergence will definitely help cushion the fall if Bowe isn’t in Kansas City past this season. But when asked if Baldwin is making the absence of Bowe easier to swallow, Madson said:
It's hard to make the absence of Bowe easy to swallow. He's been our best WR for years now and a true fan favorite. That being said, Baldwin has done about as good of job as possible.
If Bowe is true to his word and does show up to camp at some point, his prolonged absence will have allowed Baldwin to find his role with the Chiefs much quicker—something that could benefit the team greatly. But If the Chiefs are to recapture their AFC West title and put the 2011 season behind them, they will need all hands on deck.
With Bowe, Kansas City has one of the more talented teams in the league. Without him, however, things begin to get a bit dicey. All the wide receivers get bumped up one spot on the depth chart and quarterback Matt Cassel has one less target on the field to depend on.
While it is still assumed that Bowe will indeed find his way to training camp before the season starts, he will hopefully have no effect on Baldwin’s impact on the franchise.
“Going forward, I expect Baldwin to continue to work on every aspect of his game; getting better every day and not letting the success go to his head. He has the potential to be a huge diva, in a bad way. Let's hope that's not the case. Otherwise we'll be facing a similar situation to Bowe's in a few years,” Madson said.
The Chiefs may need Bowe to accomplish its goals in 2012, but if Baldwin can separate himself from last season’s missteps and continue to grow on and off the field—while not mimicking Bowe’s path to cashing in—Kansas City, its fans and Baldwin will be all the better for it in the future.
Jeremy Sickel is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.