Around The Web: Line Questions, Anger Management

It’s not secret that the Chiefs did not add much to their offense during the offseason.  And one of the biggest areas of need the past few years is still a question mark now: the offensive line.  In the Kansas City Start today, Kent Babb looks at the reliability of the offensive line.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley acknowledged last week that he is uncertain of the line’s readiness, even after three months of organized team activities and a mini-camp.  Haley’s hesitation centers in part on the lack of physical contact between the offensive and defensive lines during the less demanding offseason practices, leaving coaches to measure only mental awareness and unchallenged technique.

But the Chiefs’ bigger problem is that their best offensive lineman, four-time Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters, hasn’t made it clear he’ll play in Kansas City this season, and that leaves a gaping hole in a unit that couldn’t afford even a small hiccup.

What the Chiefs don’t want is to begin another season leaning on a patchwork and aging group of linemen, particularly when the team is spending nearly $15 million to find out whether Matt Cassel can be its long-term quarterback.  Last year, the Chiefs’ top two opening-day quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries, forcing the team to scramble to find a suitable passer by signing a pair of free agents before Tyler Thigpen emerged as a dependable, if inexperienced, option.

Haley commended left tackle Branden Albert as much as anyone during offseason practice, saying that Albert’s ceiling appears limitless.  That is welcome news for a team without an abundance of continuity or perceived upside on its line.  The Chiefs signed a handful of linemen during the offseason and drafted tackle Colin Brown out of Missouri, but veteran Mike Goff is the only addition expected to enter training camp as a front runner to start.

Whether Goff plays left or right guard depends on how the Waters soap opera ends.  Waters and Haley reportedly shared a fiery exchange in March, leading to Waters’ asking to be traded or released.  Waters appeared at the Chiefs’ mandatory mini-camp two weeks ago but did not extinguish talk of a lingering rift between the lineman and the team.  Waters, the Chiefs’ only remaining 2008 Pro Bowler, said he always skips voluntary workouts.  He said that he hadn’t performed much conditioning work before the minicamp, and he indicated that he was uncertain about what might happen during the three months before the Chiefs’ regular-season opener.

Last week, former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said Waters would eventually buy in to the program.  If that’s the case then I think the offensive line will be adequate, but certainly with plenty of room for improvement.  Even if Waters buys in and Goff is the “glue” guy, that still means only Albert is on the line for the long term.  That means Scott Pioli will still need to find starters for 4 other positions, unless a guy like Brown can show between now and next season’s training camp that he can be a starting right tackle in this league.

Most NFL fans were introduced to Todd Haley during the NFC championship game.  That’s when Haley was calling a string of excellent plays against the Eagles while arguing with WR Anquan Boldin, who pulled off his helmet and was briefly restrained by teammates.  Haley says that changed everything for him.

“I couldn’t go anywhere in Phoenix after that.  I used to be able to hide against the wall, but then everybody knew me all of a sudden.”

As for his reputation for being a no-nonsense coach that could blow a gasket at any moment?

“You’d much rather have that than to be glad-handing and patting somebody on the butt; you don’t want that as your reputation.  I’m going to be about pushing you hard and not pulling any punches.”

And Haley made the right calls during that game — against an Eagles defense designed by the outstanding Jim Johnson, no less — and the Cardinals wound up winning.

“Here I’m trying to call plays to win a championship and I’ve got somebody yapping behind me.  It took us to the Super Bowl, and then all of a sudden it became the perception of, ‘What’s this player doing? Is he an idiot? This coach is trying to call plays.’ ”

That screaming match Haley had with Boldin made him a whole lot of money.  Don’t get me wrong, if the Cardinals would have lost that game, Haley still would have been a hot commodity on the coaching market.  But that scene with him going back and forth with the Cardinals best receiver, all while calling plays in the biggest game of his life definitely raised eyebrows all around the league.  I think we’ve seen that Haley is firm, but fair and not the fire breathing hot head he was labeled by the media.

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