With all the roster shakeups we’ve seen since Scott Pioli and Todd Haley took over, lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Chiefs secondary has mostly been untouched. As Kent Babb reports, the kids in the defensive backfield have already paid their dues.
It’s never much fun to be the new kid in town, let alone to be picked on every week. That’s what happened to the Chiefs’ young cornerbacks last year. Coaches said then that the experience would be good for them in the long run, and now that they’ve endured that rookie-year turmoil, Kansas City’s youngest position group — among the first-team group at this weekend’s mini-camp, 24-year-old free safety Jarrad Page was the secondary’s oldest player — is the only unit that new coach Todd Haley’s staff didn’t shake up. Page enjoys the comfort level he has with the players around him.
“It’s not like going out there and learning a whole bunch of guys and being like: ‘I need to know how that guy plays in cover 3; I need to know what that guy does in cover 2.’ We know that stuff already. It helps a lot knowing all the guys coming back are the same guys — because we know how to communicate. We’re used to playing with each other. It’s real good to have that stability out there.”
It might not be as noticeable, but the defensive backs have been forced out of their comfort zones just like everyone else. Page said there are some differences in technique that coordinator Clancy Pendergast and defensive assistant Ronnie Bradford have emphasized. Page and second-year cornerback Brandon Carr admitted that there are habits and styles the Chiefs emphasized last year that were scrapped within Haley’s first months in Kansas City. They might not be working alongside strangers, but Haley said the defensive backs don’t yet know everything, either.
“I wouldn’t say they’re not going through drastic changes. We’re hearing from them every day: ‘That’s not the way we were taught.’ There is a lot new that they’re being taught. There are some subtle things at the defensive-back position … that are pretty drastic, major changes for a player who has been doing it one way for a year or two years.”
Haley also said he has noticed already that several defensive backs have taken charge in practices, and after last year’s difficulties on defense, the Chiefs could use all the strong voices they can get.
“We’re seeing a little leadership from that group.”
To me, the defensive backfield is clearly the strength of the team. But like last year their success is going to have a lot to do with the success of the front seven. If the defensive line and linebackers have a miserable year like they did last season, then the DBs are going to be picked apart. Because for as good as they did play last season, they were never given any help and the team continued to give up the big play. Even the best corners and safeties in the world can only keep a team under wraps for so long. If we see the front seven make big strides this year, look for the defensive backs to be one of the best in the league.
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has said all the right things since arriving in Kansas City and that includes when it comes to his favorite BBQ in the city.
“I know there’s a lot of … I don’t want to say anything. But I love BBQ.”
There’s no sense making a decision known in the KC BBQ Derby this early in his career. Better to build up a few victories and touchdown passes in the fan bank before actually getting involved in something nuclear like who has the best ribs or best sauce in town.
Cassel has shown he’s a quick learner and while the sum total of his NFL starting career is 15 games with a team that finished the last two regular seasons 27-5, he’s got a good hold on what’s necessary to be the guy who helps lead the Chiefs out of the dregs of pro football. Todd Haley says the competition for starting jobs is ongoing at 22 positions. That may be true at 21 other spots, but if the season started today, there’s no question who would be taking the snaps with the No. 1 offense. In his first chance since high school to be a team’s chosen starter, Cassel has not spit the bit.
The Chiefs have allowed media visitors to eight of their practice sessions so far and there’s improvement in Cassel’s working relationship with his receivers, although to call the team’s passing offense a well-oiled machine right now would not be accurate. During the mini-camp practices, there were times when the offense struggled to make plays through the air. The connection between Cassel and receivers has improved and Bobby Engram says it takes time.
“That doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and it takes a lot of throws between the quarterback and receivers. But those throws are being made and we are getting better.”
I think this brings up a good debate… How early can an athlete in Kansas City declare their preferred BBQ? Clearly over the years we’ve seen guys have professional obligations to one place or another, so that doesn’t count. I would say if Cassel plays well this season, he would be safe to have a favorite right about midway through the season. Obviously if he doesn’t play well, the fun stuff like his favorite BBQ joint won’t matter much. But I think that if Todd Haley can find a way to protect Cassel he’ll be fine, no matter how much people want to talk about the time it takes to connect with wide receivers.
Speaking of Cassel, he joined Dwayne Bowe at the Spring Palm Pre VIP Party at a sprint store in KC, accoring to Bowe’s blog.
As you can tell by the party, he was there to see the Palm Pre. Bowe also met with Chiefs fans and signed autographs.
Good to see Cassel and Bowe hanging out together, even if it’s at a promotional event. It’s things like this that can only help with their chemistry. Hopefully building a relationship off the field helps them to build one on the field as well. A few years back, before every Colts game all you would ever see in the pregame was footage of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison talking and then working on non-verbal cues in the red zone. It would be great if the Chiefs finally had that kind of situation with their quarterback and any receiver.