Since the time Todd Haley was hired as head coach back in February, many among the pundit class and the average fan of the red and gold have been trying to decipher how the 2009 Chiefs would look on offense and defense.
Almost all the attention has been on whether the Chiefs would play a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. There have been lengthy debates on the airwaves and over the blogosphere about the merits of each scheme and the availability of talent wearing red and gold to play them. Invariably, Haley was asked questions seeking answers to the defense.
The truth is, there’s no definitive answer, because Haley and his coaching staff are still trying to figure out what type of players they have on the roster right now. Certainly, the Chiefs are going to move in the direction of the 3-4 defense; when your top talent evaluator is a guy who helped build a Super Bowl winning 3-4 defense, it wouldn’t make much sense to not tap that talent and history.
As for the ’09 Chiefs, it would be folly for them to attempt to play the 3-4 without players who fit the system. That’s why this year’s defense figures to be a combination of the two schemes, designed to fit the skills of the players that survive training camp and the preseason and are on the roster to play the season opener in Baltimore.
It will morph into different looks throughout the season, as players improve or regress on the production spectrum.
There have been far fewer questions and very little discussion on what type of offense the Chiefs will employ in the ’09 season. There seems to be a general feeling in the Chiefs Nation that, based on the type of offense Haley coordinated during his two years with the Arizona Cardinals, this year’s red and gold offense is going to throw, throw, throw, and throw the ball.
That’s simply not true. Haley has not shown up at Arrowhead with the idea of torching the records books by filling the sky with passes. When the smoke clears at the end of the preseason, if the Chiefs have personnel suited to pound the ball on the ground, they will run the ball like a Marty Schottenheimer team.
If the personnel is better suited to put the ball in the air, then there may be a challenger to Air Vermeil in the team record book.
And best option of all: If they are able to be a balanced offense and run and pass, all the better.
“I’m not a coach who believes in saying we are going to do something this way, even if we don’t have the players to make that happen,” said Haley, “That’s never made any sense to me. You do what you do based on what’s available to you.”
So what is Todd Haley’s offensive philosophy?
“It sounds like coaching jargon,” Haley said, “But it’s to utilize the players that we have to the best of their ability. That’s the way I’ve been taught. Whatever gives us the best chance to win.”
What we saw over the last two years with the Cardinals offense is exactly what Haley is talking about: utilizing players to the best of their ability.
With a quarterback like Kurt Warner and receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston, the strength of the Arizona offense was throwing the football. On the other hand, the Cardinals had problems at tight end and running back and really didn’t have the players to pound the football or develop a consistent running game.
“We’d like to have balance on offense, but I think we showed last year (in Arizona) that we can do it that way, throwing the ball if that’s what’s available to us, and be successful,” Haley said.
“What’s important is to be successful, to win the game. The stats, records, stuff like that really don’t matter. It’s about winning the game.”
So the question becomes, what weapons are available to the Chiefs offense as they prepare to begin their OTA sessions next week? There’s Matt Cassel at quarterback and Dwayne Bowe and Bobby Engram at wide receiver.
Larry Johnson remains in the backfield. After that… it’s all question marks, in guys like Jamaal Charles (is he big enough to withstand the pounding?), Brad Cottam (can he be at least half the threat as a receiver that Tony Gonzalez was?), Mark Bradley (can he stay healthy?), and Kolby Smith (can he get healthy?)
There may be talents and skills that can be extracted from others like rookies Quinten Lawrence, Javarris Williams ,and Jake O’Connell, and others like C.J. Jones, Rodney Wright, Dantrell Savage, Devard Darling, and Jackie Battle. There could be other components that are not on the roster right now that become factors.
The shakeout will start happening next week as the team gets together for OTA sessions. As important as the mini-camps are to a team, it’s the OTA sessions that really allow the coaches and players to get into the football routine. There’s meeting time, a look at tape, and instruction in the classroom, followed by time on the field to make that teaching come to life.
This is when the Chiefs will really begin to figure out just what they will be on offense. Whatever happens, count on this: It will be built around the talents of the people on hand.
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