St. Joseph, Mo. Andy Studebaker takes off his sweat-stained practice jersey and tosses it onto a pile. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Kansas City’s fourth-year linebacker looks as solid as those cars his family used to make.
With Mike Vrabel retiring to the Ohio State coaching staff, Studebaker is the No. 1 candidate to take his starting outside linebacker spot as Scott Pioli and Todd Haley continue their patient process of building the Chiefs into Super Bowl contenders.
Just because he’s been groomed for the job for two years, Studebaker doesn’t expect any favors.
“Just because one guy’s gone, that doesn’t mean the organization is going to hand you a starting job on a silver platter,” said Studebaker, the 203rd player taken in the 2008 draft. “They’re not going to and I don’t want them to.”
Another big change at Arrowhead Stadium this year will be on the offensive line, where second-year man Jon Asamoah will get first crack at filling the big shoes of five-time Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters.
Asamoah was working at right guard with the first team as the Chiefs opened their three-week training camp.
“It was good to get out there and work with the ones,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”
It will also be different for Chiefs coaches and fans who are used to seeing Waters and Vrabel so capably handling their assignments on the field.
But as Pioli said shortly after he became the Chiefs’ general manager in 2009, “Change is the only constant in the NFL.”
For the Chiefs this year, there’s also change in the coaching staff. Gone is offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, credited by many with raising Matt Cassel’s level of play to championship-caliber during last year’s run to the AFC West title. In his place will be Bill Muir, a 34-year NFL coaching veteran who was promoted from offensive line coach.
A brand new face, and one that Cassel especially was glad to see, is Jim Zorn. The former NFL quarterback and Washington Redskins head coach is now in charge of tutoring quarterbacks for Pioli and Haley.
“It means a lot having somebody who has actually done it, who has played in the league,” Cassel said.
While he already knows Muir, Cassel admits he’s going to miss Weis, who left after only one year to become offensive coordinator at Florida.
“I thought coach Weis was instrumental in my development in so many different ways,” said Cassel, who helped lead the Chiefs to a breakthrough 10-6 record in 2010. “He came in and really got back to the basics of this offense and was able to just kind of define what we did. But at the same time, all the coaches had an instrumental role in what we did.
“I’m going to miss Charlie. But he’s gone, and that’s the NFL.”
One thing has not changed at the Chiefs camp this year. Casey Wiegmann, the seemingly ageless and indestructible center, is back for an astonishing 17th NFL season. All he did last year was set what is believed to be an NFL record by taking 10,141 consecutive snaps. The streak goes back to 2001.
“I think there’s nobody more excited about Casey’s decision to come back and continue being part of what he was such a big part of last year,” Haley said. “Like I tell all the older veteran guys, you’ve got to show us you still have it. I don’t think that’s a guarantee you can assume, and Casey understands that. You talk about leadership, this guy’s a phenom. He’s a phenom.”
Wiegmann is also a one-man repudiation of the conventional wisdom that the NFL is ruled by change.
“He’s the same guy every day,” said Haley. “He’ll be in the same seat. He’ll be out on the field at the same time. He’ll be in the same area.
“Not a lot changes.”