Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp: 4 Storylines to Watch in the Preseason
While there is not a huge roster turnover, 2012’s Chiefs will be markedly different from last year’s edition.
First off, stars Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry return from injuries that sidelined them nearly the entire 2011 season. Starting quarterback Matt Cassel and tight end Tony Moeaki are also healthy coming into 2012.
The Chiefs’ offense ranked next-to-last in scoring last year, and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was brought in. The Chiefs are mum on heavy details about the new offense, but results similar to last year’s will not be acceptable (per SI.com).
That being said, here are some impressions and questions stemming from the first few weeks of camp.
Jon Baldwin Is Looking Like Dwayne Bowe’s Eventual Replacement
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The timing couldn’t be better for the Chiefs.
It’s never a positive when your star wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, plans to hold out until just before the start of the season due to a contract dispute. However, the silver lining has been their 2011 first-round pick in Baldwin has taken Bowe’s first-team reps throughout training camp. Now, that silver lining might just turn to gold for the Chiefs' offense.
After an underwhelming rookie season, shortened by a thumb injury acquired in a questionable locker-room scuffle, Baldwin is showing the Chiefs why he should stay in the starting lineup even when Bowe returns.
His great size (6’4”, 230 lbs) combined with his speed makes him a mismatch against almost any cornerback. While he needs to show consistency on game day, his extended tryout as the No. 1 wideout could pay dividends this season.
Baldwin won’t be the team’s No. 1 this year with Bowe back, but a performance impressive enough to let the team be able to cut ties with the drama-filled Bowe after the season should not come as a surprise.
Dontari Poe Isn’t Proving Doubters Wrong so Far
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The criticism of Dontari Poe as a draft prospect last April was how raw his skill set was. Not shockingly, the book on Poe hasn’t changed in the last four months.
The early depth chart released Tuesday should be taken with a grain of salt, and Poe is behind 2011 practice squad member Anthony Toribio at nose tackle. Toribio was tagged as the starter when training camp began on July 27, so this development is not too discouraging for Poe.
What is discouraging is how Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is almost promoting the fact that Poe is struggling. Immensely.
When asked by Kent Babb of the Kansas City Star what Poe needs to improve, Crennel replied:
“A lot…He needs to work on technique, he needs to work on understanding the system, he needs to get the calls correct all the time. He’s got a ways to go.”
Poe will need a year or two to become the daunting space-clogger Crennel desires. However, as the No. 11 overall pick, Poe needs to show some level of ability in the early going to prove his lofty draft status.
Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi: Who’ll Take the Lead?
Stanzi in the 2011 Preseason
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After Tyler Palko’s arm strength proved to be more apt to Pop Warner than NFL-level football, the concern over this year’s backup quarterback is warranted. While Matt Cassel is not Tom Brady, he was sorely missed during the (thankfully) short-lived Palko era and enters 2012 as the undoubted starter.
Drafting a quarterback in 2013 is possible for Kansas City, but for now, Ricky Stanzi and Brady Quinn will duke it out for clipboard-holding rights.
Quinn is the listed backup right now, but hasn’t showed the accuracy or arm strength in camp to disprove his status as a draft disappointment.
Meanwhile, local favorite and 2011 fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi showed commendable accuracy while receiving more snaps in the Chiefs’ scrimmage against Arizona on Tuesday and has a higher upside than Quinn. Still, Stanzi looks nervous in the pocket and might not be NFL-ready.
Quinn was the backup in Denver last year, yet Tim Tebow started after Kyle Orton fell to injury. Performing well this Friday against Arizona would be a good start for Quinn in securing his backup role.
What Role Will Dexter McCluster Play This Year?
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Despite his shifty moves and star performance at the position in college at Mississippi, McCluster is not on the depth chart as a running back.
Instead, he is listed as the third receiver (four if you count Bowe). McCluster has not been the elite return specialist the Chiefs hoped for when they took him as the 36th overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft, but he has emerged as a threat at both wideout and running back.
McCluster received about ten touches per game on offense in 2011, and had 844 combined rushing and receiving yards.
With Charles and Peyton Hillis hogging the carries at running back, McCluster’s presence at wide receiver will be a better use of his skills.
Still, the onus is upon new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to properly utilize McCluster’s versatility. McCluster is small (5’8”, 170 pounds), but his ability to be a difference-maker out of the slot and occasionally in the backfield is big.