Chiefs gear up for golden year
There are players who are in no hurry for the offseason to end before getting back to the NFL grind.
And then there’s Brandon Flowers.
It’s not just Kansas City’s strong end to the 2011 campaign that has Flowers chomping at the bit. The fifth-year cornerback is ecstatic about an influx of new talent to an already sound roster and the promotion of Romeo Crennel from interim to full-time head coach.
Flowers is so confident that he recently told the Kansas City Star that the Chiefs have a mindset conducive to winning the AFC West and “aren’t too worried” about division rival Denver signing quarterback Peyton Manning. Flowers hopes the team builds off the strong defensive efforts that allowed Kansas City to finish 2-1 under Crennel. That included victories against previously undefeated Green Bay and playoff-bound Denver.
“I just feel like we’re taking our team to a whole other level,” Flowers told me and co-host Jim Miller earlier this week on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Everyone is relaxed, playing fast and their motors are going. The way we ended last season with Romeo as our head coach, I can’t wait to start the season this year.”
Flowers isn’t the only Chiefs standout who feels that way. Three prominent starters — safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki — are set to return after each missed almost all of last season following knee injuries. The absence of those players contributed to the 5-8 record that cost head coach Todd Haley his job and led to Crennel’s promotion.
Berry, who reached the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010, said he is feeling “wonderful” and on track for a full recovery by the time training camp opens in late July. Although they lost cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency to Dallas, the Chiefs are planning on ex-Oakland starter Stanford Routt becoming a solid replacement opposite Flowers. Javier Arenas, Travis Daniels and Jacques Reeves, a six-year NFL veteran who spent the past two seasons out of football, are the top backups.
Flowers said the versatility of Kansas City’s defensive backs to play both safety and cornerback roles will allow Crennel to field coverage packages that can confuse opposing offenses. The secondary also would receive a boost if Kansas City can muster more than 29 sacks, which was tied for the NFL’s third-lowest total in 2011.
“We can be as good as we work,” Berry said. “Since the first day we reported (for the offseason), all we’ve been talking about as a defense is setting the standard and keep on raising it. Especially in the secondary, we hold each other accountable.”
Crennel is now accountable for getting a Chiefs team that won the AFC West in 2010 back on track after last year’s regression. That starts with quarterback Matt Cassel.
After throwing 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in 2010, Cassel foundered in nine starts before landing on injured reserve with a broken hand. Cassel’s struggles were disconcerting enough that the Chiefs made free-agent feelers toward Manning before getting rebuffed.
The fact that Kansas City didn’t make a major move at quarterback besides signing journeyman Brady Quinn as Cassel’s new backup shows he still has support of the front-office and coaching staff.
Cassel should benefit greatly from a better supporting cast. Besides the return of Charles and Moeaki, the Chiefs made three solid free-agent additions (right tackle Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis and tight end Kevin Boss) and expect 2011 first-round pick Jon Baldwin to make a significant leap at wide receiver after he caught just 22 passes as a rookie. Fellow wideout Dwayne Bowe, who had 81 catches for 1,159 yards and five touchdowns last season, was tagged as Kansas City’s franchise player to keep him from leaving in free agency.
There also is the dynamic of Crennel serving in the dual role as defensive coordinator. That double duty could give new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll more autonomy than his predecessors who worked under Haley, whose hands-on approach generated mixed results during three-plus seasons in Kansas City.
“He loves his team run a certain way,” Flowers said of Crennel. “Whenever he speaks, everyone is at full attention. He’s a coach that everybody likes to play for. He’s a positive guy.
“I feel like he’ll let the offensive coordinator run his offense without someone standing over his shoulder telling him what he should or should not do. Not that Todd did that, but I just feel like the offensive coordinator is coming in here very comfortable.”
The Chiefs announced plans last week to commemorate their 50-year anniversary in Kansas City with events throughout the rest of the year. A playoff victory for the first time since 1993 would be another reason to celebrate.
“You can say, ‘This team is a contender,’ or, ‘This team is a Super Bowl champ,’ (but) a lot of times when you slot a team like that early in the offseason, they don’t make it,” Chiefs left tackle Brandon Albert recently told Chiefs media. “I know we have a good nucleus of guys that know the system and know the way of life around here.
“Hopefully at the end of the day, we come together and we do something special.”
Flowers will be happy to know that time is coming soon enough.
Alex Marvez and co-host Gil Brandt interviewed Eric Berry on SiriusXM NFL Radio