St. Joseph, Mo. Slapping labels on Kansas City’s new offense seems to raise the ire of the head coach.
“Everybody always wants to put an identity on an offense,” Romeo Crennel said. “What kind of offense is it? Well, hopefully it will be a winning offense.”
Brian Daboll, young but quite well traveled, checked in last winter as the fifth offensive coordinator in four years for the team that finished next-to-last in the league in scoring last season.
Only St. Louis produced fewer points than the injury-filled Chiefs (No. 18 in the AP Pro32), who lost tight end Tony Moeaki and most importantly, Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles before the season had barely started.
In addition, quarterback Matt Cassel injured his hand and was sidelined most of the second half.
But all the injured players are back now. Cassel has looked good in early camp. Coaches are understandably taking a cautious approach to Charles, who underwent ACL surgery on his left knee.
If he retains the potent ability that propelled him to a 1,467-yard season in 2010, the offense should make a huge leap.
Free agent right tackle Eric Winston could shore up what had been a gaping need. In addition, tight end Kevin Boss was signed in the offseason along with running back Peyton Hillis.
Putting it all together is Daboll, whose Miami offense last season gutted the Chiefs defense in a 31-3 blowout. Crennel, a defensive specialist, has happily turned the offense over to his 37-year-old coordinator.
Enthusiastic, animated and hands-on, he’s all over the practice field. Since 2006, he’s also coached for the Patriots, Jets, Browns and Dolphins.
“I’ve been a few different places and I’ve taken bits and pieces probably from all the offenses,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have to do what suits your players and you have to use the plays that they’re good at.”
With Daboll as his offensive coordinator in 2010, the 250-pound Hillis became the first player in Browns history to rush for 1,000 yards, catch 50 passes and score 10 touchdowns.
“He knows how to create mismatches and stuff like that and he’s always done a great job,” said Hillis. “He’s a big players’ coach. We always know he is going to put us in the right position. When I see him travel around from New England to Cleveland to Miami, I see he got a lot out of players. That’s just because he’s such a smart coach and knows how to connect with players.”
As Daboll sets about polishing the finer points of his system, not everything is brand new. Most of the line, except center and right tackle, is back.
So is second-year wide receiver Jon Baldwin, who seems to be atoning for a tough rookie season with flash and dash that’s made him the story of early camp.
Baldwin may also be seizing a big opportunity. In the only negative of an otherwise stable and well-oiled camp, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe continues sitting out because he has not gotten a long-term contract. No one expects Bowe to pass up a $9.5 million guarantee and stay out all year.
But almost everything else is upbeat offensively for Kansas City. Cassel seems more relaxed, which may have something to do with the departure of Todd Haley, who was fired as head coach with four games left last season.
“He’s dramatically improved,” quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn said. “I really feel that he is farther along than he was last year. He’s really taken charge.”
Key to meaningful improvement will be the return of Charles. Charles shot to stardom in 2010 while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
The first look at Charles in post-surgical action will come on Tuesday when the Chiefs practice against the Arizona Cardinals. If all goes well, he and Moeaki will see more action on Friday night when the Chiefs host the Cardinals in their first preseason game.
One potential trouble spot is center. Rodney Hudson, a guard since his junior year in college, is taking over for the retired Casey Wiegmann.
Veteran guard Ryan Lilja has been taking snaps at the position, though Crennel insists it’s only for purposes of depth. In addition, rookies Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson figure to see time on the offensive line.
“I think Brian has done a good job of installing his offense and getting the players to understand and buy into his philosophy,” Crennel said. “Like I said earlier, the thing I was going to be concerned about would be the young guys, to see how quickly they would pick up things. I think that will be critical as we go down the line.”