Hope springs eternal at training camps across the NFL and you'd be hard-pressed to find a head coach that doesn't believe his team can't make the playoffs. Fans start to believe the hype only to be disappointed.
In the AFC West, though, all the teams have optimism; it might be the most unpredictable division in football this year. The Kansas City Chiefs should have the best defense in the division, and that certainly gives them a chance.
The Chiefs are now over a week into training camp and there are plenty of media observations, quotes, situations and performances to analyze. Training camp is a time for the coaching staff to learn about their team and improve it, and the fans are trying to get the first glimpse at how their team might perform in the upcoming season.
No one is benefiting from the absence of franchise player Dwayne Bowe more than Jon Baldwin. He's looked sensational in training camp, according to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com. Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated recently wrote about Baldwin's development:
People in and around the organization say he has displayed greater maturity and focus and consistently made catches during workouts that had teammates and media members shaking their heads. -Jim Trotter, SI.com.
The added opportunities with Bowe's absence can't hurt the sophomore receiver. It usually takes between two and four years for a receiver to break out, and it sounds like this could be Baldwin's year to shine.
The Chiefs made Bowe their franchise player and weren't able to work out a contract extension before the deadline. That means Bowe will play the season under a one-year guaranteed contract.
When the Chiefs reported to training camp, Bowe did not report, making him one of three players to hold out. He's got nothing to lose financially by not showing up to camp, so the decision to skip the scorching heat and the dog days of training camp makes perfect sense. Both Bowe and the Chiefs know that he will report eventually; that's almost a guarantee.
What Bowe didn't consider was how he might be punching his ticket out of Kansas City by holding out. Jon Baldwin is developing in Bowe's absence, and as he does so he will eat into Bowe's opportunities.
There is a chance that could happen regardless of Bowe's presence, but the additional opportunities can't hurt Baldwin.
At the end of the 2012 season Bowe will again be a free agent, but it's doubtful the Chiefs would place the franchise tag on him again if Baldwin has a good season. He'll also lose a lot of value on the open market if some of his opportunities could go to Baldwin.
It's possible by not accepting a long-term offer from the Chiefs and holding out that Bowe is costing himself a lot of money.
Slow and steady wins the race. That's the mantra with Dontari Poe. He's not playing with the first team, partly because he's a work in progress against the run and partly because of the emergence of Anthony Toribio.
According to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, Toribio has been one of the most impressive performers in camp. It's a good thing too, because the Chiefs need a legitimate nose tackle to key their 3-4 defense.
As for Poe, there's little doubting his athletic ability, but according to head coach Romeo Crennel via Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star, Poe is going to be a pass-rusher and nothing else, for now.
It's great if the Chiefs can get some interior pass rush from the rookie, but the fans and the team will not be happy if the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft can't become an every-down player and one that can sit in the middle of the 3-4 defense and let the linebackers destroy opposing running backs.
It's been said that stopping the run takes a certain mindset and you either have it or you don't. The Chiefs fans everywhere are hoping his issues against the run are simply technical.
Matt Cassel didn't make it through the season last year and neither did several other quarterbacks in the NFL. It's always good to know what kind of backups your team has on the roster so you know what to expect if the starter goes down with an injury.
Can your backup come in and lead the team if the starter misses most of the year? Do you have a stopgap backup capable of starting only a couple games? Do you have a backup that is simply your starters' ball boy and is barely capable of coming into the game and handing the ball off a dozen times?
Most starters fall into the category of being capable of coming in and starting a couple games, but not a guy you want long term. That's probably the case with Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi, but which one wins the backup job?
Probably Quinn, he's more experienced, he's been a starter before and he was coached by Romeo Crennel's friend Charlie Weis at Notre Dame and Crennel himself in Cleveland.
Stanzi is young and developing, but he's going to have to be clearly better than Quinn, and to this point that doesn't appear to be the case.
The Chiefs brought in Stanford Routt to replace Brandon Carr. A good get for the Chiefs at the time that enabled them to franchise tag Bowe.
Unfortunately, Bowe is holding out and Routt is merely replacing Carr. The Chiefs are thin on cornerbacks. When Brandon Flowers recently left practice with a foot injury, the Chiefs brought in safety Travis Daniels to take the work with the No. 1 defense. Both Carr and Flowers played every game last year and the law of averages says they might have to have a backup start at least one game.
Jalil Brown would be a good candidate, but getting passed over for a safety doesn't demonstrate that the coaches have much confidence in him. The same goes for Javier Arenas, although he could also be considered too short for the position.
In any case, Flowers' injury has exposed one area where the Chiefs have not been able to add quality depth. One possible motto: Stay healthy, my friends.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are not the easiest injuries to recover from, but as they have become more common the rehabilitation has also become more routine. The Chiefs were the victim of a lot of bad luck last season and had three of their top players go down with ACL injuries early.
Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry have all returned to practice after spending the majority of last year rehabbing their knees. It was a long road back for the trio, but since returning there has been very little fanfare nationally about the Chiefs pushing for the division.
It's been a nearly a month of Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow coverage on ESPN and NFL Network and far too many people are sleeping on the Chiefs. The healthy trio of Charles, Moeaki and Berry should put the Chiefs in the discussion as the division favorites, but with Manning in Denver and Philip Rivers in San Diego, the Chiefs and this trio will continue to fly under the radar.