’08 Preview: Chiefs sacrifice ’08 for better future

Armed with ample salary-cap space and a list of free agents who could have helped them reload immediately, the Kansas City Chiefs opted for a different path. They were largely bystanders during free agency, content to pass on the chance to spark a quick turnaround for a franchise that has quickly turned stale.

The team even traded defensive end Jared Allen, the NFL’s reigning sack leader and arguably its best player, for a package of draft choices.

And so the 2008 season was sacrificed in hopes of a better future, as the Chiefs went about rebuilding from the ground up in the NFL draft. As many as three rookies could find a starting role by Week 1, and several others figure to see the field.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

With the growing pains that the influx of youth in place of proven talent will undoubtedly bring, the season might be better judged by progress from start to finish than wins and losses.

In other words, there’s little hope for the immediate future. At best, the goal should be a postseason berth in 2009.

Offense

New coordinator Chan Gailey will build his system around the power running game and abilities of Larry Johnson. While the Chiefs will throw downfield at times, they will also make use of underneath passes that take advantage of Dwayne Bowe’s ability to run after the catch.

Gailey’s system is an easy one to learn, which is an important asset for a unit in transition.

Defense

The Chiefs predominantly play Cover 2, but as long as Gunther Cunningham runs the defense, they will blitz frequently in an effort to disrupt the quarterback. Cunningham will coach the linebackers this season, a sign that he wasn’t happy with the production there in 2007.

Overall, the Chiefs missed too many tackles and were occasionally out of position. The front seven consists mostly of veterans, but the secondary boasts plenty of youth.

Breakout candidate

Defensive end Tamba Hali: Hali didn’t play as well last year as he did in 2006, when he was a rookie. But he played through nagging injuries, some of which should have kept him from the lineup.

If Hali can stay healthy, he should be able to take the next step in his development.

Bottom line

The ambitious rebuilding project the Chiefs have assumed precludes them from a playoff run. Too many things need to fall into place too quickly.

The offense must adapt to Gailey and his new system. Croyle has to give the Chiefs more than he did last year. Numerous rookies and other young players have to grow up quickly.

It’s unreasonable to expect all of that to happen. A more reasonable expectation is for the Chiefs to become more competitive as the season wears on.

SN prediction: 5-11, third in AFC West.

Adam Teicher covers the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008