The Kansas City Chiefs will once again be one of the youngest teams in the NFL in 2010. The average age for the 82 players on the current roster is 25 years old.
It appears very likely that all seven of the team's draft picks will not only make the team, but see quite a bit of the field this season. Additionally, the Chiefs have 13 rookie free agents in camp, and it's entirely possible that a couple of them could find themselves on the final 53-man roster.
Of course, this team is coming off of a 4-12 season, so it makes sense that this is a young group. The real question is, can head coach Todd Haley and the rest of his coaching staff find the right 53 players to get this team back into contention in the AFC West in 2010?
Based upon early reports out of training camp that the Romeo Crennel led defense is much improved, and that the offense is making strides as well, here is my prediction for what 53 players will break camp with the team and give the Chiefs the best chance to win in 2010.
After getting a year under his belt working with Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, the Chiefs expect starter Matt Cassel to make great strides in 2010 under the tutelage of offensive coordinator and quarterback-guru Charlie Weis.
Starter: Matt Cassel
Backup: Brodie Croyle
Practice Squad: Tyler Palko
Palko had a solid collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh, but he has struggled to hold onto a job in the NFL. About the only way he could find himself cracking the 53-man roster is if Cassel or Croyle goes down with an injury, and we all know that is entirely possible given Croyle's injury history.
Last season, many fans were disappointed when the Chiefs chose to hold onto the team cancer that was Larry Johnson. Those fans seemed convinced that Jamaal Charles, one of the most productive backs in Texas Longhorns history, could shoulder the load just fine.
The fans were right. Johnson tweeted his way out of Kansas City, and Charles was the second-most productive back in the NFL over the second half of last season behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson.
Complementing Charles in the backfield this year is one of the most productive backs in the NFL last season in Thomas Jones.
Starter RB: Jamaal Charles
Backup RB: Thomas Jones
Reserve RB: Jackie Battle
Starter FB: Tim Castille
Backup FB: Mike Cox
Sleeper/Practice Squad RB/FB/TE: Tervaris Johnson
Johnson is a rookie free agent out of the University of Miami, that because of his versatility and play on special teams, could land himself a job in 2010. His chances of making the team could improve substantially should Castille or Cox get hit with an injury.
A year after the end of the Tony Gonzalez era in Kansas City, and the Chiefs are hoping second-round draft pick Tony Moeaki can provide Matt Cassel with a solid receiving threat at the tight end position in 2010.
Last year's starter, Leonard Pope, should retain the job, but Moeaki will see plenty of playing time. Because of a neck injury and subsequent surgery for Brad Cottam late last season, the third TE job is wide open with Jake O'Connell the front-runner.
Starter: Leonard Pope
Backup: Tony Moeaki
Reserve: Jake O'Connell
Sleeper/Practice Squad: Cody Slate
Slate is a rookie free agent out of Marshall. And while he is a little slight for an NFL tight end at 229 pounds, the kid can catch the ball. In four years at Marshall, Slate tallied 199 catches for 2,619 yards (13.1 ypc) and 23 TDs. He was one of the top receiving collegiate tight ends in 2009, and was a semi-finalist for the Mackey Award.
The Chiefs enter this season better off at the receiver position than this time last year.
After plucking Chris Chambers off the waiver wire midway through last season and pairing him alongside Dwayne Bowe, quarterback Matt Cassel hit the turf far less often and the Chiefs' passing game was more productive.
This year, the Chiefs add second-round pick Dexter McCluster to the mix, as he will likely see a lot of time in the slot in three-reciever sets, as well as some time out of the Wildcat formation. His presence should make Bowe, Chambers, and Cassel that much better in 2010.
Starter Flanker: Dwayne Bowe
Starter Split End: Chris Chambers
Starter Slot: Dexter McCluster
Backups: Jerheme Urban, Quinten Lawrence, and Terrence Copper
Sleeper/Practice Squad: Lance Long
Long, who Haley coached while in Arizona, caught passes in seven games last year for the Chiefs. While he has good hands and is a very hard worker, something that endears him to Haley, Long doesn't do much after catch. Barring an injury to one of the other receivers, Long will likely be on the outside looking in come final cuts.
This unit, while much maligned in the press during the offseason, will look a lot like it did in 2009. The two positions where the starting job will be decided in training camp are the center and right guard positions.
At center, 37-year-old Casey Wiegmann comes back to Kansas City after spending a couple seasons in Denver to challenge incumbent Rudy Niswanger. Veteran and former Indianapolis Colt Ryan Lilja was signed to challenge Ike Ndukwe for right guard starting duties.
Starter LT: Brandon Albert
Starter LG: Brian Waters
Starter C: Casey Wiegmann
Starter RG: Ryan Lilja
Starter RT: Ryan O'Callaghan
Backups: Jon Asamoah, Rudy Niswanger, Colin Brown, Ike Ndukwe, and Barry Richardson
Sleeper/Practice Squad: Tyler Eastman
Eastman is a promising young player out of the University of Maine, joining former Maine teammate Jovan Belcher on the Chiefs, that played left tackle in college and could develop into an eventual starter at one of the tackle positions down the road.
Of all the positions on the field for the Chiefs this year, the defensive line is what stands to improve the most as a result of new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and defensive line coach Anthony Pleasant.
Former first-round picks Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson stand to reap the most benefits from the new coaching staff, and could provide a formidable tandem as the starting defensive ends.
10-year veteran Ron Edwards should once again be the starter at nose tackle, but he could see his playing time diminish as some of the younger players continue to improve.
Starter DEs: Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson
Starter DT: Ron Edwards
Backup DEs: Wallace Gilberry and Alex Magee
Backup DTs: Derek Lokey and Dion Gales
Sleeper/Practice Squad: Garrett Brown
Brown, a rookie free agent out of the University of Minnesota, could land himself a roster spot with a solid training camp. A solid college player, Brown played both defensive end and defensive tackle in his four seasons with the Gophers, and that versatility should at the very least land him a spot on the practice squad.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises coming out of this past April's NFL draft was that the Chiefs didn't address the linebacker position until the sixth-round selection of former Troy defensive end/outside linebacker Cameron Sheffield.
Much like the defensive line, this unit led by veterans Mike Vrabel, Demorrio Williams, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson will rely heavily upon the coaching and system employed by new coordinator Romeo Crennel to improve its production in 2010.
The only real questions in training camp this year are: 1) Can Vrabel stay healthy? And 2) Will Johnson reclaim his starting ILB position from Corey Mays?
Starters OLBs: Mike Vrabel and Tamba Hali
Starters ILBs: Demorrio Williams and Derrick Johnson
Backups OLBs: Andy Studebaker and Cameron Sheffield
Backups ILBs: Jovan Belcher and Corey Mays
Sleeper: David Herron
Herron, a three-year veteran who saw limited playing time for the Chiefs in 2009, will likely be the odd man out with the addition of Sheffield. Herron is likely competing with Studebaker and Belcher for a spot on the 53-man, and those two players appear to have the edge because they are both better special teams players.
For the first time since the Chiefs drafted linebacker Derrick Thomas out of Alabama with the fourth overall pick in the 1989 draft, the Chiefs defense could be dramatically improved in 2010 because of former Tennessee safety and first-round pick Eric Berry.
The addition of Berry to a secondary which includes the solid cornerback tandem of Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, gives this team a leader in the secondary that will make big plays in defending both the pass and the run.
The real question is who will start opposite Berry at the other safety position with veteran Jarrad Page holding out for a trade, and likely heading the Reserve Non-Injured list?
Starters CBs: Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr
Starters Safeties: Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis
Backup CBs: Javier Arenas, Travis Daniels, and Maurice Leggett
Backup Safeties: Jon McGraw, DaJuan Morgan, and Donald Washington
If there are two positions where the Chiefs are set, it's at kicker and punter. The real questions are: 1) Who will be the long snapper, And 2) Who will be returning kicks for this team in 2010?
Kicker: Ryan Succup
Punter: Dustin Colquitt
Long Snapper: Rudy Niswanger
Punt Returner: Javier Arenas
Kickoff Returners: Javier Arenas and Quinten Lawrence