The 2010 NFL season is fast approaching, and perhaps no group of fans in the NFL have as much cautious optimism about what it will bring as the fans in Kansas City.
A year ago, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt gutted the front office after the team's worst season in franchise history. And while many pundits questioned the youth of his new general manager and head coach, no one could question their pedigrees.
General manager Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley both came in with resumes that included Super Bowls and family ties to some of the best minds in the history of the NFL. And so the quest began in 2009, to turn the Chiefs into a dominant contender in the AFC.
While the team did improve and doubled its win total to four games in 2009, most of the season was spent finding the right combination of players that could help this team be successful.
By the team's final game, a 44-24 blowout of the division rival Broncos in Denver, Haley's team was clicking on almost all cylinders. For the Chiefs in 2010, Pioli and Haley hope to have found a few players to have this team hitting on all cylinders for their season opener on Monday Night Football against the San Diego Chargers.
Here are the 10 things to keep an eye on when training camp begins for the Chiefs, 45 minutes north of Kansas City in St. Joseph, MO on July 30th.
After spending seven seasons as the center of a Chiefs offensive line which included Hall-of-Famers Willie Roaf and Will Shields, and blocking for the Chiefs two all-time leading rushers, former starter Casey Wiegmann was cut loose by coach Herm Edwards after the 2007 season.
Edwards was always big on playing younger players, and it was his choice to move forward with the anchor of his offensive line being a two-year veteran from LSU in Rudy Niswanger.
Two seasons into the "Niswanger Experiment," and one season into a new Chiefs regime, and Wiegmann is back in Kansas City after spending two solid seasons in Denver.
What will be curious to see in camp this summer is whether Niswanger can improve enough to retain his job in front of the 37-year-old Wiegmann, or if this could perhaps be the beginning of the end of Rudy in Kansas City.
While there is little question who the starting quarterback in Kansas City is, the real question is whose name will the fans be calling if starter Matt Cassel falters or gets injured at some during the season?
Last year's backup, Brodie Croyle, has shown flashes of solid play in his four seasons in Kansas City, somewhat justifying why the Chiefs drafted him in the third round of the 2006 draft.
When Cassel was injured during the preseason last year, Haley made it clear that he was impressed with Croyle's arm and his ability to lead the offense in Cassel's absence. In turn, Croyle played well in place of Cassel in the season opener against Baltimore, completing two-thirds of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
There are still two things working against Croyle: his injury history makes many wonder if he can stay healthy for a long stretch, and his 0-9 record as the Chiefs starter isn't something to hang your hat on either.
Enter Croyle's competition, a journeyman of sorts, in former Pitt Panther Tyler Palko.
Palko has had cups of coffee with three NFL teams, spending portions of the past three seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints (2007-08), Arizona Cardinals (2009), and Pittsburgh Steelers (2009).
Even though Palko has yet to collect a regular paycheck in the NFL, his collegiate numbers at Pittsburgh were impressive, as he threw for 8,343 yards and his 66 touchdowns are second in Panther history to Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
While the job should be Croyle's to lose, a dazzling performance by Palko early in camp or another injury could derail his chances.
The Chiefs' seventh round selection from the 2006 draft isn't a happy camper, and that has become fully apparent as he is yet to sign the restricted free agent offer he received back in February, and more recently asked the team for a trade.
A starter for all of 2007 and 2008, Page is in somewhat of a precarious position. Generally speaking, there isn't a high demand out there for a safety considered to be average by NFL standards, although it has been rumored that the Detroit Lions have expressed interest.
If Page doesn't get traded or sign his contract offer by the time camp rolls around, not only will he likely forfeit his starting position to veteran Jon McGraw or rookie draft pick Kendrick Lewis, but if he doesn't sign by Week 10 he cannot play for any team in 2010.
Each season there are a few players around the league who make a splash as undrafted free agents. The Chiefs are hoping former University of Minnesota defensive tackle Garrett Brown is one of them.
Nose tackle, a position ever so important in the 3-4 defense, was a position of concern for the Chiefs entering the offseason and a need many thought Kansas City would address in the draft. They did not.
Rather, Scott Pioli and the Chiefs scouts have opted to sign just Brown, who many thought could be drafted as high as the third round, to compete with veteran starter Ron Edwards and journeymen Dion Gales and Shaun Smith.
Brown's value is in his versatility, playing every position on the defensive line for the Gophers, and the Chiefs are hoping he can at least join the rotation at nose tackle in 2010.
Everyone knows the Chiefs top pick Eric Berry can play.
In fact, many draft experts were singing Berry's praises as the best overall player in this past April's NFL Draft. The question about Berry is whether or not he can learn defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's system quickly and thereby become the leader of what was a beleaguered pass defense last season.
While Berry will be fortunate enough to play alongside two talented young cornerbacks in former first-round pick Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, it remains to be seen who will start alongside him at the other safety.
If Berry can show his teammates the same playmaking ability and leadership qualities that made him an All-American at Tennessee, the Chiefs defense could be much improved in 2010.
Going into last season, head coach Todd Haley wasn't quite sure what he had in running back Jamaal Charles, so much so that he deactivated him in week two against the Raiders.
When former starter Larry Johnson decided to go on a Twitter tirade and the team released him, it was time for Charles to show Haley he could shoulder the burden of being an NFL starting running back.
Charles didn't just prove to Haley he could handle the job, but his 254 yard performance in Denver in the season's final week proved that he has a lot left in the tank for 2010.
So why did the Chiefs sign veteran Thomas Jones, the New York Jets leading rusher with 1,402 yards last season?
The truth is, where Charles is an explosive player with world-class speed who makes defenders miss in the open field, Jones is more of an inside runner who occasionally makes plays on the edge. Charles is also more of a threat in the passing game.
So how will new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis use his two elite running backs? That remains to be seen, but Charles should still see a bulk of the carries with Jones getting the call on short yardage. It also wouldn't be too farfetched to see a few formations where both players are in the backfield at the same time.
During his first two seasons in the NFL, former first-round pick Dwayne Bowe quickly earned a reputation as one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL.
Thus the "Bowe Show" was born in Kansas City.
Last season however, the "Bowe Show" went on hiatus for four weeks beginning in Week 11 due to a suspension for performance enhancing drugs.
Prior to his suspension, it became quite clear that Bowe's production was taking a definite hit without the presence of All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez to take some of the defensive focus off of him.
However, prior to week nine, the Chiefs signed Chris Chambers whose presence helped Bowe's numbers rebound somewhat.
This season, with Chambers and dynamic rookie Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs have the best offensive weapons they've had since Bowe joined the team in 2007.
If the "Bowe Show" is ever going to be a hit, it needs to be this year.
Dexter McCluster has an opportunity this season to become the Chiefs most versatile player since Dante Hall.
McCluster's ability in the open field will remind many of Hall, who made his name mainly as a remarkable return man for the Chiefs. Where McCluster can really set himself apart however, is as a wide receiver in the passing game.
Many are comparing McCluster to New England wide receiver Wes Welker as a receiver because of their similar size and ability to shake free from defenders when running routes.
However, where McCluster can set himself apart from both Welker and Hall is when Weis puts him into formations specifically designed to get him the ball. It may be as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation or lining up at H-back or tight end.
Wherever McCluster lines up, the defense will be having nightmares trying to contain him.
After a solid season in 2008 for the New England Patriots, most wondered how quarterback Matt Cassel would adjust to not having Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw the ball to.
As the Chiefs starter in 2009, Cassel began the season with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and a whose who of retreads across from him. While Bowe consistently faced double-teams in coverage, the team's other receivers could hardly get off the line of scrimmage half the time.
Needless to say, Cassel's production took a big dip in 2009, as he went from 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2008 to 16 touchdowns and 16 picks last season.
It could be argued that Cassel was much better after the team acquired wide receiver Chris Chambers. When paired opposite Bowe in the lineup, Cassel was able to get the ball out quicker and hit his receivers in stride. Jamaal Charles having a breakout second half didn't hurt either.
In 2010, Bowe and Chambers are back and general manager Scott Pioli was kind enough to not just bring in Charlie Weis to run the offense, but he added a couple of targets for Cassel as well.
In addition to Charles, free agent running back Thomas Jones should help open up the passing game. More importantly, rookies Tony Moeaki and Dexter McCluster have the ability to create mismatches all over the field, thereby creating more opportunities for Cassel to read the coverage and hit the open man.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson and new coach Todd Haley got off on the wrong foot in 2009.
Not only did Haley's doubt of Johnson's work ethic cost Johnson his job, but it resulted in very few opportunities for Johnson early in the season. A former first-round pick, Johnson was relegated mainly to special teams duties.
When Johnson did get his opportunities to play, he made the most of them, including his breakout performance at Denver in the season's final week. In that game, Johnson intercepted quarterback Kyle Orton twice, returning them both for touchdowns.
Johnson's ability to drop into zone or play man up on the running back has never been in question, as he is the Chiefs best cover linebacker. If Johnson wants to nail down the starting job however, he'll need to prove to Haley and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel that he can be a force in stopping the run.