Compared to Herman Edwards, new Chiefs coach Todd Haley has been a drill sergeant when it comes to conditioning. But there is a method to his madness. Haley wants to make sure his team isn’t using training camp to get in shape, according to Adam Teicher at the Kansas City Star.
The Chiefs, like most NFL teams, have cut back on the frequency of camp practices because of the 80-player roster limit. They have no scheduled back-to-back two-a-day practices. So Haley is expecting productive practices when they do work, and he believes they have a better chance of accomplishing that with better-conditioned players.
“I hope we started that in the offseason by what we did with the conditioning aspect. I tried to stress that was going to be important to me and to us and that it’s going to be important they come to camp in shape. That’s part of what’s changed in the game. Before, when you had five- or six-week training camps, guys could afford to come in out of shape and practice their way back into condition. Now, you need to come into camp in shape and ready to go. That way, we’ll have the chance to practice efficiently every day and use the little time we have to practice to get us ready for the games.”
It’s going to be fascinating to see how hard Haley rides the guys that come into camp in worse shape than when they left the OTAs in June. He has been very clear about what he expects out of his players and these first couple of days should separate those that “get it” from those that don’t. And surely lead to a very long camp for the latter.
One of the biggest Chiefs stories this offseason was the future — if any — of Larry Johnson in Kansas City. To this point he has been a perfect citizen on and off the field, and as Bill Williamson found out, the veteran running back is excited to still be with the franchise that drafted him.
Johnson said his rebirth in Kansas City is due to the arrival of general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Todd Haley and assistant head coach Maurice Carthon.
“I want to be here because of Scott Pioli’s commitment to winning. He has a no-nonsense approach and coach Haley’s offensive system fits me. My decision to want to stay here is really based on what those guys are doing here.”
Johnson was indirectly critical of the previous Kansas City regime. General manager Carl Peterson and coach Herm Edwards were not brought back after the Chiefs went 2-14 last season.
“These guys are going to put the players on the field who can best help the team. They are not going to worry about four or five years down the road. There is a new excitement in Kansas City. I believe in these guys and what they are going to do to make the Chiefs a winner.”
Johnson acknowledged that he had to work to gain the trust of the new Kansas City leadership. He said he had to shed his perception of being a “locker room cancer.” He said he did so by “working my butt of and shutting my mouth.”
Johnson attended the team’s offseason workout program and tried to impress his coaches with his work ethic. He said he bonded with Carthon, who will oversee the team’s running backs, as well as Haley.
“I think I fit their power running offense and I think I can be a workhorse in this system. I’m very excited about the opportunity here.”
Just like every other player that Haley and Pioli are seeing in pads for the first time, LJ will have to earn his spot on this Chiefs team. And while I couldn’t have been more wrong about him to this point, I think Johnson is leaving out the part about not being able to score the kind of money he’ll make this year anywhere else in the league. But no matter the reason why he wants to be with the Chiefs, he does seem genuinely committed and I hope he keeps it up as the season gets closer.
Obviously another big offseason story was the trade of Tony Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons. Questions have surrounded the remaining tight ends on the roster and if anyone can help pick up the slack left by Gonzalez. With no player looking like a lock to start, seventh round pick Jake O’Connell likes his chances as he leaves with the Chiefs for River Falls.
O’Connell figures to have a better chance of making it onto the professional gridiron than most late-round picks since he has landed in what he describes as an ideal situation.
“The job is wide open right now. We’ve got a couple guys who have been bounced around a bit, but there’s not too much experience at tight end.”
Of the five tight ends Kansas City will bring into training camp, none have more than 12 career receptions or six years experience in the NFL. Their combined lifetime stats (30 catches for 218 yards) are less than a third of what Gonzalez achieved last season. With a young quarterback on a team known for big production from the tight end, O’Connell thinks he’s in the perfect place to find success.
“I’m real confident. Mini-camp was good, and I’ve just been working out up here (in Kansas City) since then. I’m just trying to learn and see what happens.”
O’Connell is hoping his athleticism stands out among the crop of Kansas City tight ends. He played defensive back and receiver in high school, but switched to tight end at Miami (Ohio). He was aided in the transition by his natural ability, including his 41-inch vertical.
“This is a different level, but everything is going real well right now.”
Keep an eye on O’Connell during training camp. Scott Pioli made a trade to get an extra pick in the seventh round, just so he could secure O’Connell, so he obviously saw something special in him. To get a spot on the team though, he’ll have to beat out two guys that Todd Haley is familiar with: Tony Curtis and Sean Ryan. With there no longer being a kicking competition to monitor, I think my camp battle to watch is going to be tight end. Clearly I only focus on the most exciting positions on the field.