Baseball's no fun from now until September, and we can only watch old NFL highlights on YouTube for so long before we need to start prognosticating on the '06-'07 NFL season. Fall can't come soon enough. In the meantime, here's the 17th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming season, the Kansas City Chiefs.
TOM'S TAKE: Larry Johnson this, Larry Johnson that. Larry Johnson is a gift from heaven. Larry Johnson is not Mel Gibson. So much hyperbole, so little time. The last time the general public actually expected a running back to rush for 2,000 yards, Barry Sanders was driving a touch of class into the NFL, one step at a time. He delivered. Will Larry Johnson? That seems to be the only question anyone is asking about the Chiefs.
Well, first, no. I doubt it, anyway. The odds are against him. If you count team-by-team, the NFL has had exactly 1,000 seasons in its history. Out of those 1,000, 429 have produced a 1,000 yard rusher. Only 5 have produced a 2,000 yard rusher. The trend exists for a reason. The Chiefs have had a terrific rush attack over the last few years, but L.J. is going to have to find his own holes. The Chiefs' offensive line will suffer from the retirement of Willie Roaf. The right side of the line is aging, and left tackle is now a question. When Roaf missed time last year, Tony Gonzalez had to help anchor the run protection, taking away valuable time for Gonzalez to slash defenses. All of this isn't to overshadow the biggest blow to the run game, the loss of All-World fullback Tony Richardson.
Trent Green will once again play the role of Father Time. At 36, his skills should be on the decline, but he's gotten finer with age. Every offseason it seems people overlook or underrate Green (including myself). And yet, every year he's approaching 4,000 yards. He's still, essentially, receiver-less. Eddie Kennison is the team's best wideout, but he's a career #2 coming off of two late-bloom type of seasons. I think he's a product of the system.
The Chiefs defense, the bane of their existence the last few years, should be much improved under Herm Edwards. They've finally gotten some pieces all across the field. Their defensive line is the unit's deepest group. Jared Allen is coming off of an 11-sack season, Eric Hicks is a formidable partner, and Tamba Hali will add another pass rush element off the edge. Coaches are happy with the progress of middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell, a key element in the Chiefs' Tampa Bay Cover 2 defense. He'll have to drop back and play the pass responsibly. The big addition, Ty Law, isn't the type of cornerback for this system. He's a man-to-man specialist playing a zone. But he's also an extremely brainy and experienced cornerback. His All-Pro skills have diminished with age, but he's at the point mentally where he can play without being top-notch physically.
What people don't usually mention when heaping praise upon Herm Edwards is that his career record is below .500. He had some bad luck with the Jets, particularly last year, but that's still a disappointing record for such an esteemed coach. He'll add some consistency and discipline to a defense that's needed it. I see Johnson rushing for 1,700, though he's not as good of a receiver as Priest Holmes so his production will be more one-dimensional. Michael Bennett will provide him a break, but the offensive line has some questions. If they don't miss a beat, the Chiefs should give Denver a run for their money in the division and maybe compete for a wild card spot. I see them closer to 8-8, 9-7.
KYLE'S TAKE: I've always been a fan of Herm Edwards. He's a straight-forward and honest guy. Things didn't work out with him in New York, but it wasn't all his fault. When Herm had a healthy quarterback, the Jets often did well. A former defensive back, remembered for the Miracle at the Meadowlands when he was playing for Philly against the Giants, Herm's always had a good defense in place. Kansas City could always use a better defense, although last year, they had a pretty sick run stop. Their passing defense, however, was easier than preparing Cup of Noodles. Chiefs fans hope to see Herm clean that up. The addition of Ty Law at corner should help, along with safety Greg Wesley, who had six interceptions and 83 tackles last year. Lining up opposite Law is Patrick Surtain, who puts up consistent numbers day in and day out. Their secondary should improve this year.
Their rush defense won't get worse, either. They hope that first round pick Tamba Hali from Penn State can help their defensive line. Linebacker Derrick Johnson was nasty last year in his first year holding the fort in the NFL. I expect the Chiefs to have a strong defense.
In fact, the weak link of Kansas City this year, remarkably, is their offense. Trent Green is getting old and he doesn't have much left in him. They need the line to protect him because he's getting to the age where one bad sack can end his season. Willie Roaf retired and out of nowhere Kyle Turley is there to replace him. Turley hasn't played since his ugly ending with the Rams. They need him to play up to par to protect Green and help the running game. But will his chronic back problems flare up?
Even if he is protected, Green's never had the greatest targets. Eddie Kennison is an average receiver. Their #2, Samie Parker, only had 533 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. Like always, it was Tony Gonzalez who provided the aerial compliment, with 905 yards. Gonzo is an awesome tight end, but not only is he already 30, teams are learning that they only need to cover him.
The Chiefs lost offensive coordinator Al Saunders to Washington, who created a sick running game in KC. I believe it will survive without him. Larry Johnson is a beast. Even Reggie Bush would pick him over himself. However, Kansas City gave up on former star Priest Holmes, who's now on the PUP list. They traded to get Michael Bennett from the Saints. Bennett is a good runner, but has had horrible problems staying healthy. If he can, they'll be a nice double-headed monster.
I believe that Kansas City has a good chance if they can find an offense; however, I don't think they will get that offense going in time. The wild card probably won't come out of their division, and Denver should be tough to beat. The Chiefs won't go out without a fight though and it's possible they can overtake the Broncos. Herm Edwards is going to be a good coach and the team will probably benefit from less of Vermeil's cry-fests.
Chiefs fans can at least expect a year of football where they compete until the end. And the fans will need that, since it'll take until January to get the Royals out of their system.