John Dorsey considers himself conservative by nature. He's willing to take a few calculated gambles, sure, but he doesn't like risks. He'd rather put his money on the sure thing.
It's a philosophy that served him well during his time in Green Bay, where he helped piece together draft classes that consistently kept the Packers in playoff contention. It's an approach that he intends to follow now that he's the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, too.
After inheriting a downtrodden franchise that finished 2-14 last season, Dorsey set about orchestrating a near-unprecedented turnover in personnel. Veterans such as Eric Winston and Steve Breaston were let go, replaced through a mixture of trades, free agency and the draft.
Now, after getting a glimpse of the payoff during the Chiefs' offseason program, Dorsey is getting to see his rebuilt team for real this weekend during the start of training camp.
"The guys you brought in here, now that you're around them, you get a good sense that they're starting to understand that being a professional means something," Dorsey said during an interview with The Associated Press before arriving at Missouri Western State University.
"It means taking ownership," Dorsey explained, "and doing the little things — 'My locker-mate is doing it.' So you're creating a goal with guys moving forward with the same mindset and objectives. That's what a team is all about."
The team that the Chiefs are putting on the practice field this fall will bear such little resemblance to the one of last season that most fans will need a roster sheet.
Not that they'll complain. Who wants to see the same guys who had the NFL's worst record?
Certainly not Dorsey, nor new coach Andy Reid, who worked hand-in-hand with the GM to upgrade the roster. Quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn were jettisoned and the Chiefs' new brain trust swung a trade with the 49ers to land Alex Smith, giving them a fresh face under center and possibly some stability at the position for the first time in years.
Yet the trade was only the first of many calculated risks that Dorsey made this offseason — after all, are the Chiefs getting the Smith that went 13-3 a couple of years ago, or the former No. 1 draft pick who was an utter flop his first five seasons in the league?
When the draft rolled around, Dorsey had his pick of offensive tackles with the first overall selection. He went with Central Michigan's Eric Fisher over Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, picking the guy with more perceived upside over the more polished product.
One of the Chiefs' third-round picks, tight end Travis Kelce, was suspended in college for a failed drug test Fifth-round pick Sanders Commings was suspended at Georgia after he was charged with simple battery and domestic violence. Quarterback Tyler Bray left Tennessee early, but some questions about his character left him signing with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent.
So, yes, Dorsey is taking some risks. But he's carefully considered each of them.
"Each one of these guys I've sat down and met with them one-on-one. I'm pretty good with finding out what makes people tick," he said. "And I know in their heart of hearts, they want to be good. They understand the team model, they want to work, and that's all you can ask for."
In the wake of the Aaron Hernandez case, NFL teams will undoubtedly take a closer look at acquiring players with checkered pasts. But in assembling this year's team, Dorsey believes that the guys he's brought into Chiefs training camp have matured since their transgressions.
"I got in trouble once in college and it was really just an unfortunate situation," said Commings, who could be out for a while after breaking his left collarbone on the first day of camp. "I learned that I need to surround myself with people who bring out the best in me."
Bray said that failing to get drafted, embarrassing as it may have been, left him hungry to be a better player on the field and a better person away from it.
"You come into college and new experiences, you're living on your own, not living with your parents, you can kind of mess up sometimes," he said. "I'm done with all the dumb stuff."
Dorsey is convinced that's the case, just as he's convinced free agents such as Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson can bolster a defensive backfield that struggled so mightily last season, and that Smith can pull the strings for an offense that rarely found the end zone a year ago.
"Risk taker? No. Am I conservative? Yeah. Am I a little aggressive? Yeah, I'll be a little aggressive," Dorsey said, "but you take your shots at the right time."
Might as well take a few bold shots right from the start.
The result already has been a level of expectations far higher than most teams that scuffled to a 2-14 finish the previous year. National pundits believe they can make a run at the Broncos in the AFC West, and just maybe pull off another Colts-like turnaround and make the playoffs.
All of that will wash out over the coming weeks and months, though, and the dozens of moves that Dorsey has made will be judged as flawed risks or successful gambles.
"I'm on the honeymoon period. We haven't lost a game yet. I'm smart enough to understand that," Dorsey said, leaning forward in his chair as if to emphasize his point.
"I'm never content," he added. "Even if we win the Super Bowl, I won't be content. At the end of the day, what you're measured with is if you leave this place better. You have to establish a tradition, of sustaining on a year-in and year-out basis winning football teams. To me, then you've done your job. I'll never be satisfied with the one-year fix."
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