Chiefs big on ability, but questions abound

The Kansas City Chiefs have every reason to be optimistic about

this season.

They have All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles back from a knee

injury, dynamic wide receiver Dwayne Bowe up to speed, and a vastly

improved offensive line. The defense is anchored by Pro Bowl

linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, and also features

big-hitting safety Eric Berry.

No wonder folks around Arrowhead Stadium have been talking


Then the Chiefs learned that Hali will miss the season opener

Sept. 9 against Atlanta after violating the league’s

substance-abuse policy. Defensive backs Brandon Flowers, Kendrick

Lewis and Jalil Brown went down with injuries. And the Chiefs

played a couple of preseason duds against St. Louis and Seattle,

the latter a 44-14 loss at home.

Now, all that eagerness about the regular season has turned into

anxiety, and affable coach Romeo Crennel has turned a bit perturbed

by the way things are headed.

”We’re not ready to throw the offense or the defense in the

trash can or anything like that,” said Crennel, who took over on a

full-time basis this season after serving in an interim role last

season, when Todd Haley was fired with the team spiraling out of


”We have to play better. I think that our guys are capable of

doing that,” Crennel said. ”We’ve got good ability on the team. I

still feel that way.”

The ability is certainly there. There’s no disputing that.

Charles, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, has

looked every bit the breakout star of 2010, when he ran for 1,467

yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

The Chiefs have been cautious in using him during camp, and that

may continue when they open the regular season, but his signature

speed and shiftiness is still there. Charles was averaging better

than 5 yards per carry through three preseason games.

”The offense looks great and we feel comfortable with it,”

Charles said, ”and we are happy with it, and I feel like everybody

on the offense can make plays.”

Charles should benefit from a retooled line that includes free

agent acquisition Eric Winston anchoring the right side. Winston

was a stalwart on the Houston Texans’ line that opened holes for

Arian Foster, and should be a significant upgrade over Barry


To give Charles a break, the Chiefs added bruiser Peyton Hillis

in the offseason.

Everything starts and ends at quarterback, though, and nobody

seems to know whether Matt Cassel will look like the guy who threw

27 touchdowns passes while going to the Pro Bowl in 2010, or the

guy who stumbled through 2011 before sustaining a season-ending

hand injury.

He’s shown signs of both during the preseason.

”A lot of times in preseason you are working different things

out,” Cassel said after a tough night against Seattle. ”It’s not

all negative, but at the same time, we do have to get better.”

One thing that doesn’t appear to be an issue is Bowe, who

skipped the offseason and start of training camp while refusing to

sign his franchise tender.

Bowe reported in time to play against the Seahawks, and should

have enough time to get his rhythm with Cassel and learn the

intricacies of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system.

”Me personally, I just need to work on me,” Bowe said. ”Just

taking it one day at time, make sure I learn the offense front and

back and to be able to perform when it counts.”

While the offense has shown signs of brilliance during the

preseason, a defense expected to be among the league’ best has

struggled to get off the field – and that’ with Hali on it.

The standout linebacker won’ be around against the Falcons after

the league handed down a suspension for an unspecified violation of

its substance-abuse policy. Hali has 26 1/2 sacks over the past two

seasons, and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season.

The Chiefs could be down to their third-string cornerback if

Flowers can’t return soon from a nagging heel injury that nobody on

the team can seem to figure out, and if Brown has to miss some time

with a groin injury he sustained in the game against Seattle.

Suddenly, that depth chart printed out a few weeks ago – the one

with talent up and down the lineup – appears a bit like Swiss

cheese, and nothing in Kansas City is a sure thing anymore.

”The thing that happens when you lose is you’re perturbed,”

Crennel said. ”If you have one guy that’s not on top of his game,

then the other team can sometimes find that soft spot, so they

found the soft spot a couple times. We’ve got to shore up that soft

spot and not allow there to be any, and then we’ll be able to be

pretty competitive at that point.”

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