KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Matt Cassel took the snap from center, scanned the practice field as he dropped back to pass and just for a moment must have felt like a little boy on Christmas morning.
There was Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles coming out of the backfield and Dwayne Bowe heading for the sideline. Dexter McCluster was out in the flat, tight end Kevin Boss was coming over the middle and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin was making a beeline for the end zone.
So many options – such a luxury.
And so very different from last season.
Injuries and a lack of depth conspired to rob the Kansas City quarterback of some of his most valuable targets a year ago.
But with Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki back from knee injuries, the signing of Boss in free agency and the sudden emergence of McCluster and Baldwin as reliable options in the passing game, Cassel could be poised for another season like 2010, when he landed in the Pro Bowl.
Instead of last season, when he became many fans’ favorite scapegoat.
“You know, every year is a different year and we’re excited about this year,” said Cassel, who passed on uttering anything disparaging about last season.
“Obviously having the OTAs this year has a much different feel coming into the season, and I think we had a strong camp up there at St. Joseph, and now this whole week is about getting back into camp mode and continuing to work,” Cassel said. “Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Chiefs offense under new coordinator Brian Daboll looked dominant in its first preseason game against Arizona. Cassel was 5 of 6 for 67 yards and a touchdown, and the 14 passes completed by Kansas City quarterbacks went to eight different targets.
That was before Bowe signed his franchise tender and joined the team, too.
The offense looked more pedestrian last Friday night at St. Louis, its biggest sore spot the four turnovers. But it looked good running the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, and now Bowe is back in the fold for Friday night’s game against Seattle.
The Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver will play against the Seahawks, coach Romeo Crennel confirmed Wednesday, but it’s unclear how much after only a week of practice.
“I’ll play him some, just give him a couple plays here and there, but I don’t think he’s ready to play a full game or anything like that,” Crennel said. “We’ll have to see how he does this game before making that assessment.”
Bowe doesn’t know how much he’ll play, either, but he sounded eager to get on the field.
“It’s coming along good. Learning the offense, learning the terms and getting up to speed,” said Bowe, who is playing this season on a one-year deal worth about $9.5 million. “I can handle as much as I can until coach says, `You’re coming out.'”
Bowe had another elite season last year, catching more than 1,000 yards worth of passes, but he certainly didn’t approach the 15 touchdown grabs of his previous season, in part because the offense had such a hard time getting into scoring position.
That shouldn’t be as big of a problem this year.
Charles is back from his torn ACL, and already in the preseason has shown the shiftiness and pass-catching ability that made him a breakthrough star in 2010. And the Chiefs signed bruising running back Peyton Hillis through free agency to provide the power to Charles’ pop.
Baldwin has made significant headway in practice, even though he’s yet to take it to the field, after a locker room altercation last year in training camp slowed his development. The pint-sized McCluster finally appears to have a home at the slot position after bouncing between running back and wide receiver under former coach Todd Haley.
Then there’s tight end, where Moeaki is coming off a knee injury that knocked him out last season, and Boss has emerged as one of Cassel’s most dependable targets already in preseason.
“It’s nice to get out there and catch a few balls and get involved in the offense,” Boss said, “and hopefully it carries on throughout the preseason and into the regular season.”
Indeed, the regular season is fast approaching – the Chiefs open against Atlanta on Sept. 9 – and only then will folks in Kansas City believe that Cassel and the rest of the offense has moved on from a difficult, and at times disastrous, campaign a year ago.
“I think we’ve got a real strong team. If you look from top to bottom at each position, we’re deep,” Boss said. “I’m happy to be part of it.”