Movin' on Up: Three NFL Teams Looking to Move Out of the Basement
When a team starts consistently losing year after year, things get pretty rough—especially if it‘s the team you root for.
Your patience as a fan is tested, and negativity surrounds every waking moment while you’re left wondering "what could have been" in previous drafts.
Sometimes the head coach is on the hot seat; often times young players aren’t developing; or occasionally the team is mired in a quarterback controversy.
Most of us have been there, few of us haven’t, and some of us are currently there as we speak.
If you’re still an avid fan of either of the teams about to be mentioned, then you fall into the “diehard fan” category.
You’ve stood by your team this long, haven‘t you? Just stand by them a little bit longer, because greener pastures are on the horizon.
Kansas City Chiefs
Last place for three straight years.
It’s refreshing when old colleagues get back together after partaking in their own separate adventures.
In the span of six days, GM Scott Pioli was able to acquire the services of both Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, reuniting all of them in Kansas City.
Both coaches have a wealth of experience, multiple Super Bowl rings, and can do nothing but improve the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. This is almost a certainty.
As head coaches, neither could escape mediocrity. But as coordinators, both are masters of their craft and they have the track records to prove it.
Put them together, and they’re an immovable object.
For your listening pleasure, please allow this song to play in the background as you read.
Kansas City Chiefs: Offense
The Chiefs’ offensive line continues to be a work in progress, but the addition of guards Jon Asamoah and Ryan Lilja should be extremely helpful considering there was a huge hole at right guard last season.
Another plus is that LT Branden Albert, LG Brian Waters, and C Rudy Niswanger are playing together for the third straight season, so some stability is definitely there. For an offensive line, experience and knowing one another can go a long way.
As far as the skill positions go, over the past few seasons Kansas City has made huge strides in this department.
The selection of Dexter McCluster, re-signing Chris Chambers, and the continued development of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles will give Matt Cassel plenty of weapons in 2010.
Adding Tony Moeaki via the draft to pair with Leonard Pope will also be beneficial when it comes to scoring in the red zone.
With Weis now having a hand in play calling, Kansas City could very well have an explosive offense this season. Now that they have a reliable between-the-tackles running back in Thomas Jones to pick up crucial third-and-shorts, things will get easier every possession.
Word has it that the Chiefs have been installing Wildcat plays in training camp, featuring both Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster in the backfield at the same time.
You want to talk about the threat of speed? This would probably be the quickest backfield in the entire league.
Kansas City Chiefs: Defense
On defense, the addition of highly-touted safety Eric Berry should immediately improve both the run and pass defense and provide some long-term stability in the secondary.
Adding him with improving third-year cornerback Brandon Flowers was a smart decision and gives the Chiefs some extreme potential in the defensive backfield.
Toss in the recent special teams play of rookie Javier Arenas, and there’s plenty to be excited about as a Chiefs fan—especially when it comes to the DBs.
Tamba Hali played well in his fourth season last year, registering eight and-a-half sacks. Unfortunately, no other linebackers came to play.
Drafting project Cameron Sheffield gives the Chiefs a developmental linebacker for Romeo Crennel to teach, but more needs to be done in the future.
Mike Vrabel isn't getting any younger, but he can help along some of the young players on defense.
Kansas City Chiefs: Player That Needs To Step Up
It’s difficult to say that such a young player needs to step up, but Glenn Dorsey needs to seriously improve his play in his third year, or else it will be another long season for KC’s run defense.
If Tyson Jackson can also play to his potential in his second season, the Chiefs’ defensive line might not be all that bad.
The long-term key for this team is getting a lynchpin nose tackle for the 3-4 defense. Until this happens, it will be a constant struggle defending the run and getting to the quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs: 2010 Outlook
The Chiefs aren’t going to make a run at the playoffs this year, but there is some hope for the near-future.
Finishing on a high note with a blowout win at Denver to closeout last season shows that the players are completely behind Todd Haley.
When you combine the signings of Weis and Crennel, a rock-solid draft, and Matt Cassel playing with another year under his belt, Kansas City has done enough to make a three-game improvement and climb out of the cellar in the weak AFC West.
Say hello to last place this season, Oakland.
Last place for two straight years.
Unless you’re an optimistic Lions fan I already know what you’re thinking, “Detroit?” It’s true that going 2-30 over the course of two seasons isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement towards improvement, but remember…baby steps.
The Lions now have a front office foundation in place to go along with the return of practically the entire coaching staff. Matthew Stafford will be going into year two playing in the same system, which is crucial for a young quarterback.
Although the forecast this season calls for cloudy skies with a chance of rain, there will no longer be a tornado warning in effect for all of Detroit.
Pretty soon, the sun will start creeping through.
This theme song is fitting for the Lions, especially given the title of the TV show.
Detroit Lions: Offense
When looking at Detroit’s offense, you’ll see a lot of potential. From strong-armed Matthew Stafford, to All-Pro wideout Calvin Johnson, the Lions added even more firepower in the offseason.
The front office started by finally getting a solid veteran wide receiver in Nate Burleson to play alongside their superstar Johnson. Then they swapped defense for offense and acquired G Rob Sims and TE Tony Scheffler through trades.
Pairing Scheffler with young standout Brandon Pettigrew now gives Detroit a good, young tight end duo.
Detroit then traded up a few spots in the draft to nab RB Jahvid Best, who is an absolute burner. He should give Stafford a good outlet on third down and make his life a lot easier while facing the blitz.
With Kevin Smith back in the mix this year, the Lions now feature what looks to be a good running back duo, both under the age of 24.
Detroit Lions: Defense
Head coach Jim Schwartz was given a heaping pile of talent in the offseason as Detroit’s defensive line received a huge makeover with three new starters taking the field in 2010.
It started with the trade to acquire Corey Williams from Cleveland who was misplaced as a 3-4 DE. Not long ago as a 4-3 DT in Green Bay, Williams played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level.
Speaking of Pro Bowls, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch was signed one day later giving the Lions even more experience and pass-rushing ability along the defensive line.
They weren’t even finished yet.
In the draft, the Lions stood pat despite trade-down rumors and selected Ndamukong Suh who is a prospect that can contribute immediately. Detroit has been able to go from having one of the worst D-lines in the NFL, to having one of the most formidable…all in one offseason.
This is nothing short of remarkable. Expect a trickle-down effect for both the linebacking unit and the secondary.
Hoping to improve upon their No. 32 pass defense, the Lions have two new starters at cornerback with Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade, so the only way to go from here is up.
Longtime veteran CB Dre Bly was also brought in to mentor young, but promising defensive backs Amari Spievey and Louis Delmas.
Trading away Ernie Sims is ultimately going to hurt early on, but Detroit has done enough in the draft and through free agency for a major all-around improvement on defense.
Detroit Lions: Player That Needs to Step Up
At the ripe age of 32, Jeff Backus needs to prove that he can protect Stafford’s blindside, or else it could be detrimental to his growth as a quarterback.
Amazingly, Backus has started in 144 straight games, so it appears the only way he’s going to lose his starting job is through poor play.
If he can play decently and keep Stafford upright, it will be a huge bonus for the offense as a whole.
Detroit Lions: 2010 Outlook
Like Kansas City, don’t expect Detroit to contend for a playoff berth just yet. The future is encouraging however, with blossoming youth at plenty of positions both offensively and defensively.
Entering his third season as general manager, Martin Mayhew has done a fantastic job of supplying Matthew Stafford with offensive playmakers. While only needing a fine-tune, when the offensive line is further solidified, the Lions will soon be setting Ford Field on fire.
With the offseason reconstruction of the defensive line to go along with another seemingly solid draft, Detroit has done enough to make at least a four-game improvement from last season.
Welcome back to the basement, Chicago.
Last place for two straight years.
Most people thought that newly hired team President Mike Holmgren was going to bring in his own coaching staff at the conclusion of last season.
Although Eric Mangini and Mike Holmgren are from different coaching trees, both have a lot more in common than one might believe.
After meeting with Mangini several times, Holmgren ultimately decided to try and build upon what he had already established in Cleveland.
Seeing that Mangini was being overworked by assuming the role of general manager at midseason last year, Holmgren was reminded of his days in Seattle when he himself relinquished extra front office responsibilities.
The result for the Seahawks was a much more focused head coach and an eventual berth in the Super Bowl.
With a competent football mind at the very top of the organizational food chain, Cleveland fans can take a deep breath and finally put some trust back into the front office.
With a new boss in town, this theme song is a perfect match.
Cleveland Browns: Offense
On offense, Cleveland now features a legitimate starting quarterback. Jake Delhomme isn’t expected to be the savior, but he’s going to bridge the gap nicely for rookie Colt McCoy.
With another consistent veteran in backup Seneca Wallace, the Browns quarterback situation has gone through a total transformation.
For the past few seasons, the Browns have quietly built a potentially dominant offensive line. With Joe Thomas anchoring the LT spot, Delhomme will have the peace of mind that his blindside is being protected at all times.
Second-year center Alex Mack looks to improve upon his impressive 2009 season, while rookie Shawn Lauvao appears to have the ability to start immediately at right guard. At the end of last season, the offensive line was opening holes big enough to drive a semi-truck through.
Finishing eighth last year in rushing apparently wasn’t good enough as the running back position received an upgrade with the trade for Peyton Hillis, and second-round draft selection of Montario Hardesty.
Even though he might lose a few carries, 2009’s three-game superstar Jerome Harrison still looks to be the feature back in Cleveland’s crowded backfield.
With FB Lawrence Vickers’ ability to block like a madman, Cleveland’s running game has the chance to flourish this year.
Second-year WR’s Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are still learning the ropes. Bobby Engram was signed for leadership and sixth-round pick Carlton Mitchell has plenty of upside with his blazing fast speed.
Although, until the young guns prove they can be relied upon, this will continue to be a weakness for the Browns.
Cleveland Browns: Defense
Much like Detroit’s defensive line overhaul, Cleveland did something similar with their defensive backs.
The Browns took a proactive approach to dealing with their secondary woes by trading with Philadelphia to acquire longtime Eagles CB Sheldon Brown. Then, they drafted CB Joe Haden and S T.J. Ward in the first and second rounds respectively.
All these new players to go along with holdovers Eric Wright, Brandon McDonald, and Abram Elam could form a very imposing defensive backfield, very soon.
At linebacker, Scott Fujita was signed fresh off a Super Bowl victory, while Chris Gocong was also reeled in with the trade for Sheldon Brown. Kamerion Wimbley was shipped to Oakland and buried treasure was found on the waiver wire last year with Matt Roth.
Arriving to the Browns at midseason, Roth’s tenacity at OLB helped make a dramatic improvement in both the run defense and pass rushing departments. Now with almost a full year under his belt in Rob Ryan‘s defense, expect Roth to flirt with double-digit sacks.
With second-year linebackers Kaluka Maiava and Marcus Benard getting significant playing time in training camp, there’s also something to be hopeful for in the coming years.
Along the defensive line, Cleveland no doubt welcomes the eventual return of NT Shaun Rogers who is still a force to be reckoned with. Last year’s surprise player Ahtyba Rubin also looks to continue his improvement at nose tackle.
Pretty soon, the Browns will need to instill some youth at DE, but for right now the D-Line can get the job done.
Cleveland Browns: Player That Needs to Step Up
Entering his fourth season, cornerback Eric Wright has always impressed with his coverage abilities, but that didn’t stop Cleveland from acquiring some competition.
Word has it that against three-receiver sets, Wright has been moving inside to nickleback to play against slot receivers. This can also aid in keeping things simple for rookie Joe Haden—especially early on.
If Wright can successfully make this subtle transition, things can get a lot better for Cleveland’s poor third-down defense.
Cleveland Browns: 2010 Outlook
Starting last season 1-11, then finishing with a four-game winning streak is a likely sign that Mangini’s team-concept mentality was beginning to take shape.
With a slew of draft picks ready to contribute right away and getting a lot of roster work done in the offseason by adding experienced leadership at QB, LB, CB, and TE, Cleveland has done more than enough to make a three-game improvement from last season.
I know it’s been a while, Pittsburgh…but welcome to the bottom once again.
Conclusion: Common Denominators
All three of these head coaches are going into their second years. While they each hit some road bumps last season, all of them had a lot of work to do in the first year with their new teams.
Rosters have been purged, systems have been implemented, and new talent is ready to break out. On the second go-around, things usually get easier, especially when the front office and coaching staff are on the same page.
This is what makes these three teams the most likely to become contenders in the very near future—they’ve all got continuity, promising youth, and competent front offices.
Don’t expect a playoff berth, but rather a stepping stone of progress heading into 2011. These three teams have taken quite a few steps back over the years, and it’s looking like it’s time for them all to take a step or two forward in 2010.
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