Kansas City Chiefs: 6 Key Players the Chiefs Will Need in 2011
Throughout the past week, we've been hearing reports that the lockout could end and teams may begin their workouts.
The Kansas City Chiefs will defend the AFC West this season, and Chiefs fans would love nothing more than to see their team win it again.
The Chiefs will need all 53 players on the roster to work together in order to accomplish that task.
However, there are six key players the Chiefs will need this season. They are six players who are capable of making big plays and becoming big contributors on the team.
The six players I'm about to discuss are players whom fans do not want to see get hurt. Otherwise, opposing teams will take advantage.
Here are the six players who could make a difference for the Chiefs in 2011.
As always, let me know what you think.
QB Matt Cassel
Chiefs fans are split on Matt Cassel.
Some feel he will one day bring the Chiefs a lot of success in the postseason, while others believe he will struggle against challenging teams.
Although this will be Cassel's seventh season in the league, it will be only his fourth season as an active quarterback. Prior to taking over for Tom Brady, Cassel did not start a game since high school.
It's clear that Cassel has a lot to learn, but with a good 2010 season under his belt, he'll walk into this season with a higher level of confidence.
If Cassel is injured and misses multiple games, we'll either see rookie Ricky Stanzi or Brodie Croyle take the starting quarterback job, depending on who Scott Pioli and Todd Haley want to keep.
This will be Cassel's third season in Kansas City.
Fans will keep an eye on him to see if he can continue to make progress as a Chief after helping them have the biggest turnaround in franchise history last season.
WR/RB/KR Dexter McCluster
Out of all the rookies drafted by Kansas City last year, none received more hype than Dexter McCluster during training camp.
McCluster made a great first impression when he returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 1 against San Diego.
Soon after, fans realized he did it against a team that struggled on special teams all season.
Two weeks later, against San Francisco, McCluster made a nice catch and ran for 31 yards for a touchdown.
After that, McCluster never found himself in the end zone with the football in his hands.
Despite not finding the end zone in Week 7 against Jacksonville, McCluster contributed to the Chiefs' ground game, as he earned 28 of 236 rushing yards.
McCluster was also used through the air as he came away with five catches for 41 yards, giving him 69 yards of total offense on nine touches. After helping the Chiefs move the football, he left the game early with a high ankle sprain. The injury would force him to miss the next five games.
McCluster's return wasn't as memorable as many had expected.
He blames his disappointing rookie season on his injury and says he's ready to have a better season in an interview with the Kansas City Star.
McCluster has the ability to make big plays due to his speed.
He knows he needs to stay healthy in order to find that high level of success.
WR Dwayne Bowe
Dwayne Bowe's season was full of emotional roller coasters.
Bowe's talent seemed to be erased after dropping multiple passes. Bowe received a heavy load of criticism in Week 5, when he dropped what could have been the go-ahead touchdown against Indianapolis on the road.
The Chiefs eventually lost the game.
The fans and the media were ready to label Bowe as a first-round bust.
Some hoped that the Chiefs could find a trade partner before the deadline arrived. However, Haley saw something in Bowe that no one else saw.
Haley has worked with many elite wide receivers and knew Bowe could join the list of key receivers Haley has coached.
One week later, Bowe immediately turned his career around by scoring two touchdowns in a loss against Houston.
In 2010, Bowe had a total of five multi-touchdown games and caught at least one touchdown in seven consecutive games. He racked a league-high 15 touchdowns through the air last season.
That is the most touchdowns in a season for a receiver since Randy Moss in 2007. For the first time in his career, Bowe earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
This year, Bowe must prove he can repeat and continue to play at a high level.
Fifteen touchdowns in back-to-back seasons may be a lot to ask for, but keep in mind, the Chiefs relied on Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles in the passing game more than Chris Chambers.
Now that Bowe is coming off of a successful season, he must carry that over in 2011 as he mentors rookie Jonathan Baldwin.
Bowe will be considered a key player and a leader for the first time in his career. Players will look up to Bowe and hope to learn from him to help carry the load.
S Eric Berry
The Chiefs have had some bad luck finding the right player when drafting in the Top Five in 2008 and 2009.
In 2010, they were in that spot again and selected the best defensive back in the draft.
After going through the rookie learning curve, Eric Berry had a strong second half of his rookie season.
With four interceptions, one forced fumble, two sacks and many big hits and pass breakups, Berry was noticed all over the field on defense.
With a full year under his belt, Berry could start the 2011 season with a bang.
The Chiefs also have a couple of pass-rushers they can work with. No defensive back will succeed if there is no pressure being applied by the players up front.
If the Chiefs can find the right player to replace Mike Vrabel, Berry and the other defensive backs could be in for a great season.
RB Jamaal Charles
For the second year in a row, teammates voted for Jamaal Charles to win the Derrick Thomas Award, which is recognized as the team's MVP.
Charles made a big impact for the Chiefs last season, as he finished second in rushing even after finishing second on the team in carries.
Throughout his career, Charles has dealt with multiple injuries and has fumbled the ball several times.
But Charles has managed to stay on his feet and use his breakaway speed to gain big yards on the ground and through the air.
In the 2009 and 2010 regular seasons, Charles has amassed 2,587 yards off of 420 carries in 16 starts which equates for a 6.2 yards-per-carry average.
This season, there is no question that Haley must feed the ball to Charles more. He kept the Chiefs' offense going as they ranked first in the league in rushing.
LB Tamba Hali
Defenses don't tend to do well if they can't apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Chiefs have a strong group of defensive backs and are working on building a strong defense up front to help Tamba Hali.
Hali led the the AFC with 14.5 sacks and forced four fumbles.
Hali was a nightmare to opposing quarterbacks as he continually applied pressure in every game and forced quarterbacks to get rid of the ball fast and make ill-advised passes.
In the postseason loss to Baltimore, Hali sacked Joe Flacco twice and forced him to fumble once. Hali also managed to recover the fumble he stripped from Flacco.
When the lockout is lifted, the Chiefs must do everything in their power to re-sign Hali, who will be needed in 2011.
The Chiefs will be facing a strong list of quarterbacks, which includes Philip Rivers and Tim Tebow twice inside the division. Outside the division, the Chiefs will have the opportunity to go up against Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning.
Many quarterbacks struggle escaping pressure applied by defensive players.
The Chiefs will need Hali's pass-rushing skills this season. When the 2011 season is over with, there's a chance that this could be one of the most challenging seasons Hali has ever had.
There is no doubt that he will come away with double-digit sacks and help the defensive backs get a couple of extra interceptions.