Chiefs head into training camp with high expectations
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs will look a little different on offense this season.
They'll look a little familiar on defense.
Neither of which is necessarily a bad thing. The Chiefs' popgun offense and stingy defense carried them to a 9-7 record last season, barely missing out on the playoffs on the final Sunday of the regular season.
So with just a few tweaks to the scoring side of the ball, and with the other side largely status quo, the Chiefs enter training camp with high expectations.
"We understand that we need to take it up a level from last year," coach Andy Reid said, "so that's what all of the guys are striving to do."
The biggest changes on offense are wide receiver and the offensive line.
Dwayne Bowe was cut loose and the Chiefs signed former Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin as his replacement, giving Kansas City a downfield target for the first time in years.
On the offensive line, center Rodney Hudson left for AFC West rival Oakland in free agency, so a big competition in camp will be to find his replacement. But the Chiefs also traded for former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs, signed Paul Fanaika for depth, chose Mitch Morse in the second round of the draft, and will be getting former starter Jeff Allen back from injury.
While nobody knows what five will line up Week 1, the Chiefs hope all those changes will help solidify an offensive line that struggled much of last season.
"You definitely have to have an offensive line that can carry the load on their shoulders," Grubbs said. "I've been on three teams now and offensive line play is very important. A lot of the coaches say as the offensive line goes, the team goes."
In the case of the Chiefs, that statement applies just as well to the defense.
All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston is coming off a 22-sack season, and is armed with a new, six-year, $101 million contract. Fellow linebacker Derrick Johnson is back from a torn Achilles tendon, as is defensive tackle Mike DeVito. Throw in veterans such as cornerback Sean Smith and linebacker Tamba Hali, and the defense figures to be stout once again -- even with the loss of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe to back surgery last week.
Kansas City ranked second behind NFC champion Seattle in points allowed last season, and was among the league leaders in most other defensive categories.
"We're fortunate here to have good talent and guys that work hard," Reid said, "so they take upon themselves that responsibility to do that, and the coaches do the same."
Here are some other things to look for as the Chiefs report to training camp at Missouri Western in St. Joseph, Missouri, on Friday:
ERIC BERRY: The Pro Bowl safety missed much of last season after he was diagnosed with lymphoma, but he was cleared late Tuesday to return to practice. Will Berry be the same dominant run-stopping defensive back that he was before cancer treatment, and how quickly will he be able to get up to speed? His first practice was expected to be Wednesday.
STAYING HEALTHY: The Chiefs lost Johnson, DeVito and Allen in Week 1 last season, and now could be without Poe for much of the season after his surgery on a herniated disk. No team can overcome too many injuries, even though the Chiefs have decent depth across the board.
HEY, ROOKIE: Several first-year players will be counted on this season. Morse and WR Chris Conley are two of them, but first-round pick Marcus Peters and third-round choice Steven Nelson -- both defensive backs -- will try to work their way into the starting lineup, especially with Sean Smith suspended for the first three games of the season for his drunken driving arrest.
TAMBA TIME: Outside linebacker Hali insists he can still register a double-digit sack season, even though he turns 32 in November. That would be a boon for Kansas City because it would keep Houston from dealing with double teams all season.
CHARLES IN CHARGE: Running back Jamaal Charles was banged up much of 2014, but he said during offseason work he was finally feeling healthy again. Charles may be the single most valuable player on the roster, even more so than quarterback Alex Smith. "This was my best OTAs in my career right here," he said last month. "It was one of the best ones I've had."
Why? "Because I feel like I know what I'm doing," Charles said. "I did everything patiently. I came in in shape. Being in the third year of the system, I feel good."