With the preseason in full swing and the opening weekend less than a calendar month away, now is the perfect time to glance in at all 32 NFL franchises and get a scoop on what to expect this season. I will be grading every team on all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. I will also take a look at the coaching staffs of all 32 teams, including the 10 new Head Coaches and evaluate the impact they might have on their team’s success. Then I will outline some key position battles and some names you may or may not know about to watch for the upcoming season.
The AFC was seemingly the tougher conference to succeed in last season. Take into account that the Kansas City Chiefs won 10 games yet were not a part of the playoffs last season. But with the new season around the corner, the Chiefs look to take that experience and make sure to leave no doubt by the season’s end. Out is Head Coach Dick Vermeil, who has finally decided to retireÃ¢Â?Â¦ again. In comes former New York Jets’ leading man Herm Edwards. What he brings over from New York is a tough attitude that doesn’t accept anything less than full effort and results. He’ll have to change the philosophy from that of being satisfied with their lackluster performances and getting the killer instinct from the players. He’ll have a tough job to do, but he’s got some of the pieces in place to do it, such as one of the top tight ends in NFL history and one of the top rated running backs going into 2006. Their defense must improve, and they will need to do so in a hurry. Have they done enough?
What could be the biggest change for the Chiefs in 2006 may be a subtraction rather than an addition. Gone is super Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders, who shaped the Chiefs’ offense into one of the most potent in the NFL over the past few years. With new Head Coach Herm Edwards comes in and promotes Mike Solari from his position as Offensive Line Coach and moves him to be responsible for the entire offense. What this will seemingly do is make the transition smoother as he is familiar with the offensive personnel and the schemes they run. He is known as a good teacher and could be in for a challenge on scheming the offense on a weekly basis. His background with different offenses should help his transition to Coordinator.
QB: Veteran Trent Green comes back for another season under the center. He has a personality that makes him well respected in the locker room and out on the field for the Chiefs. An unquestioned leader for the offense Is Green. He is an incredibly accurate passer who has been very durable for the Chiefs in making 80 consecutive starts. It helps an offense when you can be 100 percent sure as to who will be your starter every week. Green is very capable of reading defenses and finding even the smallest holes to make plays through. Very deceptive and agile in the pocket, will not think run first nor will he have designed running plays, but he can definitely get out and make an occasional play or two for the team. The biggest question with Green is how much more he really has left in the tank. He shouldn’t worry them too much this season after having a solid 2005. He threw for just a shade over 4,000 yards with 4,014, which was his third consecutive 4,000 yard season. Only threw for 17 touchdowns last season, his first season below 20 in four years, but that tends to happen when Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes dominated the offense in 2005. Look for Green to have an excellent 2006, following his template.
RB/FB: Priest Holmes’ future in football is still undetermined at the time of me writing this, but you have to believe that as the season gets closer that his prospects for returning are slimmer and slimmer. That really doesn’t worry the Chiefs too much cause of one Larry Johnson. For those of you versed in fantasy football, then you may recognize Johnson as the top rated running back in most systems this year. With good reason, of course. He was a Pro Bowl running back despite only starting 9 games due to injury to Holmes, Johnson was still able to rush for 1,750 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, adding another one receiving. Johnson is a punishing back who uses his size to make defenders unable to bring him down with arm tackles and has surprising agility. Once he gets by you, he’s got incredible acceleration in the open field and is very difficult to catch. Will be backed up by newly acquired Michael Bennett and Dee Brown. At fullback, they will be missing an integral part of the offense. With Tony Richardson off to Minnesota, the Chiefs will rely on Ronnie Cruz to replace the two-time Pro-Bowler. Soaked in knowledge from being behind Richardson last season and appears to be ready. Will no provide quite the same impact initially, but could become a solid fullback in time.
WR/TE: With such a high-powered offense, it’s surprising to some that their receiving battery is actually quite average on the whole. The top receiver in the offense, Eddie Kennison, is the only receiver that could be a starter on other teams in the NFL. Kennison is an NFL vet who has been one of the best receivers in Chiefs’ history. He had a good 2005, posting career highs in both receptions (68) and yards (1,102). He only had 5 touchdowns, and you really would like more production than that from a top receiver. Samie Parker is the number 2 for now with the lack of depth, but Parker really isn’t capable of starting for a lot of NFL teams. He’s a decent receiver, but seems to be better suited as a slot receiver or as a part-time receiver in on multiple receiver sets of 3 or more receivers. Dante Hall is more important in the return game than he is as a receiver. He’s just not durable enough to see regular time at receiver. Any injury could seriously damage this team at the receiver position. Although Tony Gonzalez had a good season in terms of catches (78) and yards (905), the alarming number was him only having 2 touchdowns. He hasn’t had any less than 6 since his second season in 1998. He was hurt by the injuries to Willie Roaf which forced him to stay closer to the line to help block, leaving him less available for passes. He should have a resurgence with the addition of Kyle Turley to the line, who has been playing well.
OL: The line took a serious blow when odds-on future Hall-of-Famer tackle Willie Roaf announced his retirement in the offseason. Roaf was a stabilizing force on the line and his absence was very evident at times last season. Casey Weigmann will return as the center once again, this being his 6th as the Chiefs’ starting center. He’s not as big as other lineman, but his work ethic is often unmatched and he displays solid technique which has kept him as a stalwart on the line. To his left will be tackle Kyle Turley and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters. Turley was originally slated to be the right tackle after veteran John Wellbourn retired in early June, but he was moved over to left because of the departure of Roaf. He’s been playing very well despite missing the last two seasons because of a back injury. Waters is a Pro Bowl guard who is big and strong inside and is very good at pulling and blocking the run. They will probably form the front that will be the strongest for running back Larry Johnson to run behind. The right side of the line consists of tackle Kevin Sampson and guard Will Shields. Sampson will step in because of Wellbourn and Roaf retiring as the other tackle. Will Svitek will most likely provide competition for Sampson at the position. Shields is a Pro bowl caliber guard who will not have competition because he’s one of the league’s best. He’s another lineman who could very well be headed to Canton once his career is done.
Overall Grade: B
Gunther Cunningham also remained for the Chiefs as the Defensive Coordinator under Coach Herm Edwards. This is Cunningham’s second stint as the D.C., first holding the position from 1995-2000. He was hired on by Dick Vermeil in 2004 and has facilitated the development of the unit. Kansas City has seen improvements since Cunningham took over the defense in 2004. For instance, they only allowed 20.3 points a game in 2005, their lowest total since allowing 20.1 in the 1999 season. They continued to grow as the season progressed and were 7th in the NFL against the run. They were especially strong during the final weeks of the season when they were fighting for a playoff spot, allowing only 117 rushing yards and 10 points combined in their final two contests. Cunningham has a defense that is growing and continually learning to work together, something which could bode well for them in 2006.
DL: The Chiefs will field two very speedy ends this season. One will be Jared Allen, who finally solidified his position as a starter last season and responded with 11 sacks and an unofficial 54 quarterback pressures. He’s very agile, able to make very strong moves and get by some of the bigger athletes at the offensive tackle position. Always seems to be around the football. Opposite him will be rookie Tamba Hali from Penn State. He’s got a very strong passion for the game and gives it his all until he hears that whistle blow to end the play. He is quite the story, having come from war-torn Liberia when he was 10. Has not seen his mother or other family members since leaving the nation. A tough young man with a soft heart, Hali will force defenses to respect both sides of the Chiefs line. The interior of the line will feature tackles Ron Edwards and James Reed. Edwards, who came over from the Bills, is a strong lineman who often gets double teams because of his push. Reed also came over in free agency, coming over from the Jets with Coach Herm Edwards. Reed is a physical presence and will be a vital part of the rotation, along with Ryan Sims Lional Dalton.
LB: The Chiefs boast three strong linebackers, a position that was an area of concern a few years back. In the middle is Kawika Mitchell, a punishing linebacker who has cemented his role in the middle over the past couple of seasons with the Chiefs. He is a high-energy player who is beginning to take on the leadership role for the defense as well. He has two dynamic athletes on his outside, Derrick Johnson and Kendrell Bell. Johnson was a rookie last season, but you wouldn’t have been able to guess that from his play. He started all 16 games last season and finished 3rd on the team in tackles. He’s got incredible speed which allows him to play nearly sideline-to-sideline with ease and can excel for them at pass rushing or dropping into coverage. Bell, meanwhile, should be even more of an impact now that he’s not plagued by injuries that he suffered in 2004 but lingered last season. Very explosive and a physical presence on the line, Bell should contribute more to the Chiefs in terms of a pass rush and blitzes off the edges and even up the middle.
DB: Two All-Pro corners headline the secondary for the Chiefs. You have free agent pickup Ty Law, who was with Herm Edwards in New York last season and was tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions. Although getting up there in age, Law is still highly regarded by many as one of the top cover corners in the NFL. Has good versatility, able to play man coverage and is proficient at playing the zones as well. He’s got good hands, nice agility, and hands always ready to make a play. He teams with Patrick Surtain to give the Chiefs a very experienced and playmaking cornerback tandem. Surtain has an uncanny ability to getting to the football and making a play on it, whether it’s just knocking the ball away or getting the interception. He’s also got the size and skill you look for from a corner. Surtain has the intelligence to read offenses and the speed to make the plays once he recognizes the play. At safety the Chiefs have two more veterans, Sammy Knight and Greg Wesley. Knight, the strong safety, has added experience at the position along with new toughness and a nose for the ball. Having Knight on the field is like having another coach out there, able to read the defenses and implement changes on coverages on the fly. Then there is Wesley, a veteran with the Chiefs who is a hard-hitting safety who has played both safety positions. Wesley is continuing to improve as his knowledge of the free safety position continues to grow.
Overall Grade: B+
K: Lawrence Tynes has successfully cemented his position on the Chiefs with his strong leg on kickoffs and his solid ability with his field goals. Tynes has been a consistent force from beyond 50 yards, something that can widen the range for his offense in terms of putting the team in scoring range. Tynes made a career in the CFL before coming to the Chiefs
P: Dustin Colquitt was solid for the Chiefs in 2005, his rookie season. Colquitt was a good punter for them and also served as the team’s holder. The thing about Colquitt is the unusual spin that he gets on the football when kicking, often causing return men problems in fielding his punts. He gets great hangtime on his kicks.
Overall Grade: B+
One thing that Coach Herm Edwards did when he took over is not make very many drastic changes to his staff. He retained Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham to keep the continuity for the defense and promoted an Offensive Coordinator from within, tapping Offensive Line Coach Mile Solari. Edwards knows what it takes to win, having led the Jets to the Playoffs in three different seasons and winning a division title. Edwards brings to the Chiefs a hard-working ethic and will not accept anything less than their very best. Look for the Chiefs to display a little of their coach’s toughness this season.
Overall Grade: A-
Position Battles to Watch
WR: Who really knows what’s going to happen with this position. Not so much the starting guys, but with the final few roster spots. You know Kennison, Parker, and Hall will be there, but who else makes the team is anyone’s guess. It will be determined by the way the receivers play in the final two preseason games. They have some youth, but the Chiefs aren’t really sure how much they can get out of them this season.
QB: The backup job behind Trent Green is wide open, seemingly waiting for either Damon Huard or Brodie Croyle to step up and make a play for it. Croyle should be the quarterback for the Chiefs long term, but since both have suffered minor injury setbacks this season, Huard might get the nod due to experience.
Player to Watch
Kris Wilson, H-Back/TE: The Chiefs are looking for 2006 to be the season in which they can finally use all of Wilson’s skillset. They don’t plan on using a fullback as much this season with the loss of Tony Richardson, and Wilson’s skills as a receiver can be sued as an extra tight end or even as the team’s H-back. Wilson is a good receiver who runs good routes, but hasn’t seen much time because he’s not proficient at blocking. He won’t get regular time until it improves, but he will see spot situations in 2006.
Record: 11-5, AFC West Champs
Offensive MVP: Larry Johnson
Defensive MVP: Derrick Johnson