KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The question wasn’t even fully asked before Eric Berry shut it down.
“I’m not talking about last year,” the Pro Bowl safety said.
Doesn’t matter whether the query had to do with the 14 losses that the Kansas City Chiefs endured in 2012, or the countless off-the-field distractions. Heck, it could’ve been about some trivial issue such as the length of practices, Berry wasn’t going to bite.
Really, there’s not much reason to anymore.
After one of the most dismal seasons in franchise history, the Chiefs have hit refresh. They have a new general manager in John Dorsey, a new coach in Andy Reid, and a new quarterback in Alex Smith leading a new-look team into its season opener Sept. 8 at Jacksonville.
“We’ve got standards for ourselves,” Berry said, “so we have a lot of stuff to prove to ourselves. We’re not worried about outside opinions or factors or anything like that. We’re just focused on coming in, jelling as a unit, a team, and just taking it from there.”
That’s been a tall order this offseason. The Chiefs had more than 50 newcomers on the 90-man roster who reported to training camp, and just five of the 22 on their two-deep were in the same spot as they were for the final game of last season.
So whether it’s Berry trying to learn how to work with new defensive backs Sean Smith or Dunta Robinson, or Smith trying to get on the same page with wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery, the eight months that have transpired since last season have been all about work.
“I think every team in the NFL has positive expectations right now, every single one,” Smith said. “It’s a fresh start. It’s a new beginning for everybody. It’s what team is going to put in the work and take the steps necessary to get better?”
The Chiefs clearly believe they’ve put in the work, but there are dozens of other factors that could dictate whether they have a bounce-back season. Here are five more:
SMITH AS A STAR
The Chiefs’ first major move in their rebuilding job was to trade with the 49ers for Smith, finally stabilizing the quarterback position for the first time in years. Smith was considered a bust as a No. 1 overall pick for the first five years of his career, and then emerged as a star under 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. The Chiefs are betting that Smith was a late-bloomer rather than a product of Harbaugh’s offense.
“Listen, I thought Jim did a nice job with him out in San Francisco,” Reid said, “but here, everybody’s on board. I’m asking him to do a ton of things and he’s handling it.”
CHARLES IN CHARGE
Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles expects to be utilized the same way that LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook were used by Reid in Philadelphia — both were as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield as they were taking handoffs. Charles ran for more than 1,500 yards last season, despite missing most of the previous year with a torn left ACL. But he has shown plenty of ability to catch the ball, too.
“They’ve seen how athletic I am and I can do more than just running the ball,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has promised an attacking defense this year, and that’s good news to players weary of their previous bend-but-don’t-break style. The Chiefs tied for last in the NFL with seven interceptions last year. They managed only 27 sacks, tied for 29th out of 32 teams, and only recovered six fumbles all season.
“I definitely think this team has underachieved,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “We always had talent, but the wins didn’t add up. But that’s the past. This is a fresh start.”
BIG PICKS ON BIG UGLIES
The Chiefs have invested high draft picks on their offensive line the past few years, and that includes spending the No. 1 overall pick in April on Eric Fisher. The rookie out of Central Michigan is expected to start at right tackle opposite Branden Albert, the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2008. Center Rodney Hudson and guard Jeff Allen were each second-round picks, and fellow guard Jon Asamoah went in the third round. Their ability to protect Smith and pave the way for Charles will be critical.
Reid had a tumultuous season of his own in Philadelphia last year. Along with family issues, the Eagles went just 4-12 – his worst finish in 14 years as their coach. Reid was shown the door after the season, but it was in many ways a mutual decision. Reid was eager for a fresh start and Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt was happy to supply it in Kansas City.
“I sincerely mean this, he’s having more fun,” Dorsey said. “I see a more vibrant person – I see Andy, the coach I used to know. He’s over here doing receivers. He’s over here with the tight ends. He’s working with the tackles. He’s jumping the quarterback, and that’s good.”