When Andy Reid walked into Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, he couldn't help but remember his last visit to the house that Peyton built.
That was back on January 4, when he brought the Kansas City Chiefs to town to face the Colts in a first-round game in the AFC playoffs. Reid's team built a 28-point lead with just over 28 minutes to play in the game, and ended up losing to Andrew Luck and the Colts 45-44 in one of the biggest postseason meltdowns in NFL history.
"It was a little rough the last time here," Reid said. "We are trying to smooth that over right now. It was a rough day, but there are some great things we can learn from that as a young football team, and we will learn from it."
It's only in the last few weeks that Reid and his coaching staff began dissecting every moment of an 11-5 season that ended with the postseason disappointment.
"We are doing our self-scout evaluations right now and looking at that (collapse against the Colts)," Reid said. "It starts with me looking at myself, the coaches looking at themselves and then looking where we can make changes scheme-wise and where we can put players in better positions to make plays ... we know we have to improve."
Reid and general manager John Dorsey are working to build off the good that came from taking a team that finished 2-14 in 2012 and a year later went 11-5 and made the AFC playoffs. Over the years the NFL has had quite a few one-year turnarounds that went backward in the next season. A recent example would be the Minnesota Vikings, a team that went 3-13 in 2009, jumped to 10-6 the next season and fell to 5-11 in 2011. The Miami Dolphins finished 1-15 in 2007, went 11-5 the next season and dropped back in 2009 to a 7-9 record.
The first step for the Chiefs' hierarchy in keeping the momentum going forward will be to improve the talent on their roster. That starts with identifying their own free agents that they want to keep, and then evaluating the league's other available players that can help the cause and come at a worthy price.
Starters from last season that will become unrestricted free agents in March are left tackle Branden Albert, right guard Geoff Schwartz, receiver-returner Dexter McCluster, inside linebacker Akeem Jordan and free safety Kendrick Lewis.
Even if the salary cap comes in at a predicted $130 million, Reid and Dorsey will not have an abundance of room under the league's salary cap for a free-agent spending spree. It's the NFL Draft where they plan to build on the Chiefs' 2013 success.
"I'm not a big free agency guy," Reid said. "I'm lucky enough to be with John and that's his feeling. I think you can plug things here or there, but if you think you are going to make a team out of free agents, I don't think that necessarily works."
Last year, the Chiefs came to the combine as owners of the No. 1 selection in the draft. They grabbed offensive tackle Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan and watched him struggle early in the season playing right tackle before improving his performances over the last half of the season.
Reid indicated there are no second thoughts about picking Fisher.
"I think it all points up for him," Reid said. "He took a step from a little bit smaller school into the NFL and he handled it and as the season went on he excelled. We are looking forward to him having an offseason where he can lift and get stronger and improve.
"You feel like he's wired to do that."
--Earlier this month, a Kansas City radio station reported the Chiefs had decided they were not going to attempt to re-sign soon to be unrestricted free agent left tackle Branden Albert. At the NFL Scouting Combine, general manager John Dorsey said that was news to him.
"This is the first I heard about it," Dorsey said.
"We have ongoing conversations with the representatives for all of our unrestricted free agents and it just so happens we've had conversations with Branden's representatives. That's the beauty of the combine; all those guys are here. We will continue to have conversations as the combine passes."
Last year, the Chiefs kept Albert by using the franchise-player designation and he received $9,828 million in salary. They have the ability to do that again this year, with Albert receiving 120 percent of his salary from last year, or $11,793,600. Dorsey said that would not be the case this season.
"We probably won't use that," Dorsey said of the franchise tag. "We will continue to have ongoing discussions with his representatives at the combine as well as after the combine."
--Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was watching the Pro Bowl several weeks ago, enjoying the action of the all-star game and the 10 players from the Chiefs that participated. But one play brought him out of his chair - his inside linebacker Derrick Johnson smashed his running back Jamaal Charles with a forceful tackle that's seldom seen at the Pro Bowl.
"I was mad at him," Dorsey said of Johnson's hit. "I was going 'D.J., that's your teammate - you aren't supposed to do that!' I texted him afterwards and said, 'D.J., easy there big boy'!"
It all turned out fine for the Chiefs as both Johnson and Charles walked away from the play.
"I thought it was a great form tackle by D.J. and my man Jamaal showed his true toughness as he ran through it," Dorsey said.
--Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt has said publicly that the Chiefs are beginning the process of negotiating a contract extension with Alex Smith. There's one year remaining on the contract that the starting quarterback brought with him last year from San Francisco. After years of mediocrity with the likes of Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko and Brady Quinn, Smith was able to stabilize the position and the offensive productivity grew as the season played out.
"We have begun the dialogue with his representatives," Hunt told Kansas City radio station KCSP. "Where it goes or whether it's something that gets done here in the offseason or during the season or perhaps even at the end of the season, I really don't know how that's going to play out."
--The Chiefs said goodbye to veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson after just one season, a move that was foreshadowed in the second game of the 2013 regular season. In the club's home opener against Dallas, Robinson was outmatched trying to cover Cowboys receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. His lack of speed and quickness forced defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to replace Robinson in the nickel back role and contributed to the rise of rookie waiver-claim cornerback Marcus Cooper. Over the rest of the season there were seven games where he was a game-day inactive player, or dressed but did not get on the field. Robinson did contribute in the locker room and defensive backs meetings as he imparted his previous experience in the league with Houston and Atlanta.
--There has been just one change in personnel on the Chiefs coaching staff at this point. Assistant special teams coach Kevin O'Dea left Andy Reid's staff to become the special teams coach in Tampa Bay for new Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith.
"Kevin is a tremendous football coach and he's going to do a great job in Tampa," Reid said. "I'm happy for him."
Replacing O'Dea will be Brock Olivo, who joins the Chiefs after two seasons (2012-13) as running back coach and special teams assistant at Coastal Carolina University. Olivo spent the 2011 season as running backs coach for the Omaha Nighthawks of the now defunct United Football League. He actually began his coaching career in Italy, as the head coach and offensive coordinator of the Italian National Football Team. He played 44 games in the NFL with the Detroit Lions after a strong career at the University of Missouri, where his No. 27 jersey was retired by the school.
Olivo was the first recipient of the Mosi Tatupu Award, an honor bestowed on college football's top special teams player from 1997 through 2006. During his time at Mizzou the coaching staff included current Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub.
"He has great energy and he's a good coach," Reid said of Olivo. "We were able to put him through quite a long interview process and he handled himself well."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March
--S Husain Abdullah
--LT Branden Albert
--G Jon Asamoah
--S Quintin Demps
--DE Tyson Jackson
--ILB Akeem Jordan
--FS Kendrick Lewis
--WR Dexter McCluster
--G Geoff Schwartz
--WR Kyle Williams
--OLB Frank Zombo
Scheduled to be restricted in March
--TE Richard Gordon (restricted)
--G Ricky Henry (restricted)
--LB Robert James (restricted)
--DT Jerrell Powe (restricted)
WIDE RECEIVER(S): It's Dwayne Bowe and a bunch of mediocre receivers after that. Two solid catchers are needed for Alex Smith.
SAFETY: The backline in the defense lacks speed and top coverage ability. It's why they allowed so many big plays.
CORNERBACK: Every team needs more quality corners. The Chiefs have three: Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper. In the AFC West, that's not enough.
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