- Will the real Kansas City Chiefs kindly stand up?
Are the tenants of Arrowhead Stadium the same moribund franchise that won just 10 times in three seasons from 2007-09, the resurgent juggernaut that made the playoffs with 10 wins under wunderkind Todd Haley in 2010...or the middling bunch that sank back to 7-9 and sent Haley packing last year?
They showed signs of a pulse under AARP-eligible successor Romeo Crennel in the season's final three games, knocking off the 13-0 Green Bay Packers and the eventual AFC West champion Denver Broncos to give the faithful something to look forward to...maybe, in 2012.
Now 65 years old, Crennel put in his time as an assistant with the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Browns before getting a head coaching shot with Cleveland in 2005. He lasted four seasons and produced a 10-win campaign in 2007, but was let go when things slid back to 4-12 a year later.
He was the Chiefs' defensive coordinator for 29 games from 2010-11 before taking over the team after Haley's dismissal, and he'll likely retain responsibility for defensive play-calling in his new permanent position.
"I get the sense Romeo wants to be the coordinator on defense," general manager Scott Pioli said. "I don't know if he's made the absolute final decision, but I'm pretty sure that's the way he wants to go."
And unlike Haley, Crennel is widely seen as a player's coach.
"There's no denying it, it starts with Coach Crennel," Kansas City safety Kendrick Lewis said. "It is a good environment here because of the way Coach Crennel communicates with us. It's a good place to be. Everything changed with that Green Bay win. This season kind of started then. It's been great since that day. Coach Crennel has us all believing."
Even in a down year, Crennel's defense provided plenty of reasons for belief in 2011, finishing the season sixth against the pass with 201.3 yards allowed per game and 11th overall with 333.3 total yards surrendered per game.
Kansas City was 12th in the league in points allowed.
All-Pro linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson return to the fold, as does former No. 5 overall pick Eric Berry, who was lost for the 2011 season with a torn ACL in Week 1 after making 72 tackles and intercepting four passes (with one touchdown return) as a rookie safety in 2010.
More help came via the draft in April, when the Chiefs selected 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe from the University of Memphis. He may begin his rookie year listed No. 2 on the depth chart, however, after working behind Anthony Toribio for much of the preseason.
On offense, the full-time and full-health returns of quarterback Matt Cassel (broken hand, missed seven games) and running back Jamaal Charles (torn ACL, missed 14 games) automatically upgrade the unit, which also got a positive jolt when wide receiver Dwayne Bowe signed his franchise tender in August after a sometimes-ugly contract dispute.
And upon his return, the former LSU star sounded ready for big things.
"[My drive is] as big as it was last year," Bowe said. "Every year is a big year. Somebody is trying to come in here and take my job, and my job is to go as hard as I can to prove I'm the number one guy."
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 7-9 (4th, AFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Baltimore in AFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Romeo Crennel (2-1 in one season with Chiefs, 26-41 in five seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Brian Daboll (first season with Chiefs)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Crennel (third season with Chiefs)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Jamaal Charles, RB (1467 rushing yards, 45 receptions, 8 total TD in 2010)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Tamba Hali, OLB (66 tackles, 12 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 27th overall (15th rushing, 25th passing), 31st scoring (13.3 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 11th overall (26th rushing, 6th passing), 12th scoring (21.1 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: TE Kevin Boss (from Raiders), RT Eric Winston (from Texans), CB Stanford Routt (from Raiders), QB Brady Quinn (from Broncos), RB Peyton Hillis (from Browns), WR Devon Wylie (4th Round, Fresno State), DE Ropati Pitoitua (from Jets), NT Dontari Poe (1st Round, Memphis), OLB Edgar Jones (from Ravens), S Abram Elam (from Cowboys)
KEY DEPARTURES: FB Le'Ron McClain (to Chargers), TE Leonard Pope (to Steelers), C Casey Wiegmann (free agent), RT Barry Richardson (to Rams), NT Kelly Gregg (free agent), CB Brandon Carr (to Cowboys), QB Kyle Orton (to Cowboys), QB Tyler Palko (not tendered), RB Thomas Jones (free agent), RB Jackie Battle (to Chargers), WR Jerheme Urban (free agent), TE Anthony Becht (free agent), OT Ryan O'Callaghan (free agent), DE Wallace Gilberry (to Buccaneers), ILB Demorrio Williams (to Chargers), S Jon McGraw (free agent), S Sabby Piscitelli (free agent). S Reshard Langford (to Lions)
QB: The "is he a top-half quarterback" debate remains ongoing with Cassel (1713 passing yards, 10 TD, 9 INT in 2011), though he's shown plenty of glimpses in four seasons as a starter - one as Tom Brady's fill-in in New England and three more after he was acquired by the Chiefs. Those years saw him throw for 3,000 yards twice and exceed 20 touchdowns two times, but his 2011 run was cut short by a series of injuries that included a broken right hand that limited him to just nine games. Brady Quinn came in from Denver during the offseason to be the presumptive No. 2, but he's being pushed for that role by Ricky Stanzi, who was behind Cassel and the since-exited Tyler Palko and Kyle Orton as a rookie last season.
RB: Charles was seeking a follow-up to his breakout season of 2010, in which the dynamic University of Texas alum ran for 1,467 yards and caught 45 passes, but he was sidelined early last year with a torn ACL. He's the man again assuming he's back to full health, but he'll have some help in the form of former Cleveland workhorse Peyton Hillis, signed as a free agent in March. Hillis had 587 yards on 161 carries with the Browns last season and has a 4.2 yards-per-carry average for his career. Also in the fold is the versatile Dexter McCluster, who caught 46 passes and ran for 516 yards in 2011.
WR/TE: A prolonged holdout initially clouded the status of No. 1 wideout Bowe, but the LSU product signed in late August and is ready to approach the 81- catch, 1,159-yard numbers he posted in 2011. The yardage total was three shy of his 2010 career best, but his touchdown numbers tumbled from 15 to five. Still, the soon-to-be 28-year-old seems to have some prime years remaining. Tight end Tony Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards and three scores as a rookie in 2010, but like Charles, is also coming back after an ACL tear ended his follow-up season. At the other wideout spot, second-year man Jon Baldwin caught 21 balls for 254 yards as a rookie and turned in a series of good practices in camp before Bowe signed. Also available is veteran Steve Breaston, who had 61 catches for 785 yards in 2011, his first year with the Chiefs after four seasons in Arizona. New to the team for 2012 is ex-Giants Super Bowl hero tight end Kevin Boss, who signed with the Chiefs after one 28- catch season in Oakland.
OL: The Chiefs surrendered 34 sacks last season - 10th-best in the league - and brought in some new talent when right tackle Eric Winston signed from Houston after starting every game for the Texans over the last five seasons. The incumbent left tackle is Branden Albert, who committed 10 penalties and allowed five sacks last season. Second-year pro Rodney Hudson steps in full- time at center for departed free agent Casey Wiegmann, while also returning are guards Ryan Lilja and Jon Asamoah on the left and right sides, respectively.
DL: The Chiefs made the massive Poe the 11th overall pick in this past draft, so he'll clearly work into a role with a defensive-minded head coach like Crennel, especially with assumed early-season starter Toribio a journeyman with just six games of experience who spent all of last year on the team's practice squad. The outside spots in Kansas City's 3-4 alignment are held down by Tyson Jackson (55 tackles, 1 sack) and Glenn Dorsey (62 tackles), each of whom were top-five picks in their respective drafts. Kansas City allowed 4.2 yards per carry and 2,112 yards rushing overall last season, good for the 14th and 26th-best rankings in the league, respectively.
LB: He'll miss the first game of the regular season due to a substance abuse- related suspension, but big things are expected again from 28-year-old right outside linebacker Hali, who had 66 tackles and 12 sacks last year. Attention paid to him cleared some room for left outside returnee Justin Houston (56 tackles), a third-round pick last year who recorded 5 1/2 sacks as a rookie - all in the last five weeks of the season. On the inside, it's the All-Pro Johnson (131 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and Jovan Belcher (87 tackles), who combined for 218 tackles last season. Belcher could be pushed by Brandon Siler, who missed last season with an Achilles injury.
DB: The 2011 Chiefs were sixth in the league in both pass defense (201.3 ypg) and interceptions (20), thanks in no small way to the performances of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers. Carr left for Dallas as a free agent in the offseason, but Stanford Routt comes in from Oakland as a replacement. Flowers (59 tackles), who had four interceptions and returned one for a touchdown in 2011, has been slowed in training camp with a bruised foot but is expected to recover fully by the start of the season. Routt had four interceptions and 49 tackles in his last season with the Raiders. At safety, the Chiefs get an automatic upgrade with the return of Berry, the former No. 5 overall pick who was lost in Week 1 with an ACL tear. He replaces the departed Jon McGraw, while the other slot is occupied by third-year man Lewis, who had 60 tackles and three interceptions last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nickel back Javier Arenas averaged 21.3 and 12.8 yards on kick and punt returns, respectively, on a combined 49 runbacks in 2011. Also on the scene is McCluster, who's second on the depth chart for both return spots and has plenty of experience in each. He averaged 22.3 yards on kickoffs and 10.8 on punts in 2011. Kicker Ryan Succop was 24-for-30 on field goals and made three from 50 yards or more last year, while punter Dustin Colquitt had a solid 45.9 yards-per-kick average with 27 attempts placed inside the 20-yard line.
PROGNOSIS: The Chiefs are one of those easily forgotten teams that could surprise this season. An already sound defense is better with the return of safety Berry and the expected emergence of linebacker Houston, not to mention the potential of tackle Poe. And that's not even mentioning stars like Hali and Johnson. Meanwhile, the offense has a myriad of weapons and should be automatically improved if Cassel stays healthy and vertical for the majority of 16 games. Crennel won two of his last three games after taking over from Haley last season and could string together enough success in a full year to have Kansas City at the postseason door come December.