Kansas City Chiefs 2014 Season Preview

( - Sequels are rarely as good as their originals and that's the conundrum Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs will face in 2014.

Turning two wins into 11 was a pretty significant accomplishment for Kansas City but a lot of the goodwill from that turnaround, which was architected by Reid in his first year with the Chiefs after a decade-plus in Philadelphia, vanished during an ugly playoff implosion against the Indianapolis Colts.

Reid and his hand-picked general manager John Dorsey enter their second season in the Show Me State facing a much more difficult task. Kansas City isn't going to sneak up on anybody this time around and the last-place schedule is a thing of the past.

The team's opportunistic nature from 2013 and ability to "win" at all the little things will also not be easy to duplicate.

The Chiefs utilized all three phases a year ago with ball control particularly a key staple to the team's success.

Kansas City has a plus-18 turnover differential in 2013 with 36 takeaways and only 18 giveaways, and the Chiefs outscored their opponents 430 to 305 thanks in large part to leading the NFL in miscellaneous touchdowns with 11 returns for scores.

Additionally, KC led the NFL in average starting field position at the 33.4 yard-line and ranked first in average opponent starting field position at the 23.2 yard-line. Meanwhile, the club's kick return team broke the NFL record for return average in a single season with a 29.9 yards average.

Another postseason run is certainly possible but only if some obvious needs can be addressed and compensated for.

The bigger issues for the Chiefs remain contract extensions for underrated quarterback Alex Smith as well as pass-rushing star Justin Houston, who skipped OTAs because of unhappiness with his deal.

The team must also cobble together an offensive line knowing that it lost 60 percent of its unit from a year ago to free agency as left tackle Branden Albert fled to Miami while guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz found new homes in Atlanta and New York, respectively.

Making matters even worse was the fact that projected right tackle Donald Stephenson has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2014 season for violating the NFL's PED policy.

The Chiefs do, however, have a solid foundation with seven returning Pro Bowl players -- Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry, Houston, fellow linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali, as well as defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

2013 RECORD: 11-5 (second, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2013, lost to Indianapolis in AFC wild card

HEAD COACH (RECORD): Andy Reid (11-5 in one season with Chiefs, 141-98-1 in 15 seasons overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Doug Pederson (second season with Chiefs)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bob Sutton (second season with Chiefs)

KEY ADDITIONS: OL Jeff Linkenbach (from Colts), LB Joe Mays (from Texans), CB Chris Owens (from Dolphins), DT Vance Walker (from Raiders), OT J'Marcus Webb (from Vikings), DE Dee Ford (first round, Auburn)

KEY DEPARTURES: OT Branden Albert (to Dolphins), OG Jon Asamoah (to Falcons), S Quintin Demps (to Giants), CB Brandon Flowers (released, to Chargers), DE Tyson Jackson (to Falcons), LB Akeem Jordan (to Redskins), S Kendrick Lewis (to Texans), WR Dexter McCluster (to Titans), OG Geoff Schwartz (to Giants)

QB: Smith returns for his second year in Kansas City after an eight-year stint in San Francisco. As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft Smith has morphed from bust into a more than competent game manager, who had won 31 of his last 41 NFL starts.

First and foremost Smith takes care of the football and had the fewest interceptions (seven) of any quarterback to start every game for their team in 2013. He's also more mobile than you think, finishing sixth among NFL signal callers with 431 rushing yards. The negatives rest on the fact that he does not consistently push the football down the field and will rely heavily on checkdowns.

The backup is Chase Daniel who arrived from New Orleans before last season after serving as a backup to Drew Brees for four years. Daniel has never gotten a real chance to show his wares but is regarded as a solid second option by most.

Rookie draft pick Aaron Murray out of Georgia will likely beat out ex- Tennessee star Tyler Bray for the third slot.


RB: Charles was in charge of the Chiefs offense last season, leading the team in both rushing (1,287 yards) and receiving (70 receptions for 693 yards).

The superstar has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four straight seasons (excluding 2011, lost to injury). A true home run threat Charles led the NFL with 12 rushing TDs a year ago and has three career 200-yard rushing games as well as three 80-plus yard TD runs.

Speedy second-year man Knile Davis is expected to be Charles' chief backup if he can cure some ball-security issues. The 5-foot-11 Arkansas product was clocked with a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine back in 2013.

"He has come a long way," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said of Davis. "He's made it a conscious effort to protect the football and he understands that, he is a professional and he continues to work on that in practice. And we ask the defensive guys when they can to go after the football and try to knock it loose. So he is conscious of it, he has done a great job so far and hopefully he keeps that going."

Rookie De'Anthony Thomas, a fourth-round pick, shapes up as a nice replacement for Dexter McCluster, who left for Tennessee in free agency. The 5-foot-9 Thomas could be an explosive third-down back and an excellent return specialist.


WR: The big-bodied Dwayne Bowe returns as the Chiefs' No. 1 outside threat. The former Pro Bowl selection led all Kansas City wideouts in receptions and receiving yards for the fifth consecutive season in 2013, but it was a down year as he recorded only 57 catches for 673 yards with five touchdowns. He's not much of a deep threat at this point and will be suspended for the season opener for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, stemming from a November 2013 arrest for speeding and marijuana possession.

The 29-year-old Bowe was previously suspended four games for violating the PED policy in 2009.

Opposite Bowe will be speedy veteran Donnie Avery, who had 40 catches for 596 yards and two scores during his first foray with the Chiefs a year ago.

"Donnie has tremendous speed, and he's got a lot of experience and he's shown in this offense that he can do some nice things," Reid said.

Depth is sparse with Junior Hemingway, a seventh-round pick in 2012, A.J. Jenkins, a former first-round pick who flamed out in San Francisco, another ex-49er in Kyle Williams, and second-year pro Frankie Hammond as possible options.

"Frankie has just come in here since day one of OTAs and just continued to work hard," Pederson said when discussing Hammond. "He showed flashes of it last year actually on the service team against our defense and worked hard there. He's just put him in a good position. He's a smart kid, he���s put on some weight a little bit, some strength."


TE: Anthony Fasano is an old-school Y tight end who can help you as a blocker and outlet receiver but doesn't have the long speed to threaten defenses down the seam.

Second-year man Travis Kelce is a big 6-foot-6, 260-pound player from Cincinnati, who missed 15 games last season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee. He is pushing Fasano and projects as a similar type of tight end but could offer a little more big-play ability.


OL: Losing 60 percent of your offensive line is always going to hurt but some of that will be alleviated if Eric Fisher, the top overall pick in the 2013 draft, develops into a top-tier left tackle.

Fisher was a monster at Central Michigan, registering 341 knockdown blocks, but he was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season while struggling with a shoulder injury and playing on the right side. Some have gone so far to question Fisher's toughness and his development will be watched closely this year.

"Obviously coming off two surgeries, you've got to go through some stuff and get stronger every day," Fisher said. "Obviously sometimes after a major surgery, your shoulder is going to get a little tired, your body is going to get a little tired, and you've got to fight through that and just keep going. But as you recover, you get stronger and that's what I am going through right now."

Stephenson, a former third-round pick, is a great athlete who lacks technique. He will slide in and start at right tackle when the suspension is over.

The interior is headlined by fourth-year pro Rodney Hudson at the pivot and guards Jeff Allen and rookie Zach Fulton, a sixth-round selection who has impressed early on.

A trio of nondescript veteran free agents -- guard Jeff Linkenbach and tackles J'Marcus Webb and Ryan Harris -- will offer depth.


DL: The Chiefs got the breakout year they were looking for from 2012 first- round pick Poe, a player who is extremely light on his feet for a 350-pounder and a has very thick lower body made for two-gap play.

The scrappy Mike DeVito is back to handle the right end spot. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton knows DeVito well from their time in New York together and trusts the hard-working Maine product.

The left end, who will replace former first-round pick Tyson Jackson, figures to be Allen Bailey, a prototypical five-technique with long arms, the ability to anchor and a motor that offers good backside hustle.

Former Raider Vance Walker offers depth on the interior while Jaye Howard, a waiver pickup from Seattle last season, and Mike Catapano figure to be the reserves on the outside.


LB: This is by far the top group on the Chiefs with three Pro-Bowl linebackers supplemented by a first-round pick with significant upside as a pass rusher in Dee Ford.

The leader of the team's defense remains veteran inside linebacker Johnson, who is flanked by the two pass-rushing stalwarts, Hali and Houston.

Johnson earned his third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl following the 2013 season, finishing with 107 tackles to pace the team for the fourth -straight season. He's two years removed from an All-Pro season in which he set a franchise record with 179 tackles.

Hali, meanwhile, finished with 11 sacks in 2013 giving him 73 1/2 since arriving in K.C. from Penn State in 2006. Hali also has a knack for forcing fumbles, jarring the ball loose 28 times, ranking third in franchise history behind legendary names like Derrick Thomas (45) and DE Neil Smith (29).

Houston brought it from the other side with 11 sacks despite some nagging injuries. The lone weak spot in the starting lineup is Johnson's running mate inside, Joe Mays, an undersized Reid favorite from the coach's days in Philly. It got even murkier when Mays when down with a wrist injury in the preseason which will require surgery.

Second-year man Nico Johnson, a three-year starter at Alabama who was a member of the Crimson Tide's national championship teams in 2009, 2011 and 2012, has a higher ceiling than Mays but been slow to catch on and wasn't really pushing the veteran before the injury.

Despite greater needs elsewhere Kansas City went edge pass rusher at No. 23 overall, taking Ford, who played defensive end at Auburn. At just 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds there is no way Ford can play the five-technique in the 3-4 so he's going to be stuck behind both Houston, who is signed through next season, and Hali, who is locked up through 2015, for now.


DB: Cornerback is an issue because veteran Brandon Flowers is gone and Sean Smith has been a disappointment since arriving from Miami. Smith, a lengthy corner who can be physical but isn't all that smooth, is running behind Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker, two former waiver claims.

The Chiefs addressed depth at the position in the third round of the draft by adding lengthy Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines, who should be able to push for playing time rather quickly.

"They're working," Sutton said of his corners. "Sean (Smith)'s done a really good job, Ron (Parker)'s had a really good run through camp, done a really good job. I think both of those guys have really stood out.

"I think (Phillip) Gaines has done a good job coming along; young guys got a lot to learn. Camp is all about technique, you need to hone your technique, because that's what's going to ultimately allow you to be successful out there on those 16 Sundays or Mondays or Thursdays."

The safeties will be the physically imposing Berry, along with ex-Vikings starter Husain Abdullah, who took a year off from football a few years ago to go on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.


SPECIAL TEAMS: The Chiefs kicking game is very solid with Ryan Succop, who has made 119-of-147 field goals in his career, the top percentage in team history.

Dustin Colquitt, meanwhile, makes a habit of pinning opponents deep in their own territory following up a mind-blowing 45 punts inside the 20 in 2013 with 35 last season.

The return game was anchored by the explosive McCluster and will now be the domain of both Thomas (punts) and Davis (kickoffs).


COACHING: Reid had a lot to prove with the Chiefs last year and did so. Known as a tremendous preparation coach but an average game day mentor, Reid has Kansas City moving in the right direction early in his tenure.

Sutton, the ex-Army head coach, was a nice pick by Reid to lead the defense. Many have argued that Reid's teams in Philly stumbled once legendary DC Jim Johnson was stricken by cancer. One thing is certain, Reid was never able to replace Johnson and it's a fair criticism to note that he tried with people like Sean McDermott, Castillo and Bowles, who didn't have big reputations nor the cachet to question Reid's orders. Sutton has both.

Pederson, who played under Reid in both Green Bay and Philadelphia, is his good friend and a rubber stamp.


THE SKINNY: Kansas City looks like a logical team to take a step back in 2014. The last-place schedule is gone as is the surprise factor of a two-win team who turns out to be very competitive.

That, along with the offensive line woes, has the Chiefs' trajectory pointing downward.