> What exactlyare the Chiefs right now? Coming off an up-and-down season in which they edgedinto a wild card, they jettisoned longtime starting quarterback Trent Green,wanting to get younger across the board. So their four big free-agentacquisitions were a 34-year-old outside linebacker, Donnie Edwards; a28-year-old middle linebacker, Napoleon Harris; and two starting tackles,Damion McIntosh and Chris Terry, who are 30 and 32, respectively. Atquarterback they're straddling the line between ancient (Damon Huard, 34, theopening day starter) and fuzzy-cheeked (Brodie Croyle, 24, the presumedsuccessor). "I know who we are," said coach Herm Edwards in trainingcamp. "We've changed the face of our team, but we're still a cross betweena young team and a veteran team. This franchise has had 53 wins the last sixyears, which is good, but that's what this team was."
K.C. thinks itsretooled defense could be a top¬†10 unit. Coordinator Gunther Cunninghamwill move end Tamba Hali all over the front seven to maximize his rush skills,and over his shoulder often will be one of the fastest linebackers in football,Derrick Johnson. Free-agent vets Harris and Edwards, with Johnson, should givethe Chiefs their best linebacking corps in years. At safety two 2006 rookies,Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard (who blocked three kicks last year), take theirhead-hunting games to the starting lineup. The Chiefs will have to play smart,low-scoring games and win the turnover battle.
> There areplenty of obstacles to success. This is the only team in the league that playsits first two and its last two games on the road. There's also a bull's-eye onthe shoulder pads of running back Larry Johnson, the main offensive threat; agreen quarterback, Croyle, pegged to take over at some point in the season; anda formerly strong offensive line that's now a patchwork.
The offense is allJohnson, all the time. He was wise to redo his contract in August because healmost surely won't have the same negotiating power after the season as he didbefore, running behind a line in which guard Brian Waters is the onlyoutstanding pro. Plus, there's no way a back can continue on the pace Johnsonhas kept up the past two years. After carrying the ball 140 times in his firsttwo seasons, mostly backing up Priest Holmes, Johnson toted it a combined 752times in 2005 and '06. Since the NFL went to the 16-game schedule in 1978, onlyEric Dickerson carried it more in back-to-back seasons, with 769 for the Ramsin 1983-84. Johnson is only 27, but if he continues bearing such a burden, hemay have only two or three dominant years left.
Herm Edwards sayshe'll keep LJ fresher this year by using a couple of relief pitchers--veteranMichael Bennett and surprising fifth-round rookie Kolby Smith fromLouisville--but let's see if that plan holds in late December if the Chiefs arestill in the playoff race. "Obviously he won't run it 400 times again,"Edwards says, "but whoever runs it, we've got to get 2,000 yards." K.C.rushed for 2,143 last year.
The Chiefs willplay it safe in the passing game, with Huard expected to give way to Croyle,the second-year player out of Alabama who'll get the chance to show he's thequarterback of the future. "I get the don't-be-a-gunslinger talk twice aweek," says Croyle. "If the big play's there, hit it. If not, checkdown to the back. I know that, and I'm ready. This is what I've been preparingfor since junior high school. It's not too soon."
There's amplereason to suggest that last year's 16th-ranked defense can get muchbetter--mainly because of four rapidly developing young players. DerrickJohnson, being mentored by veteran tackling machine Donnie Edwards, could havea breakout season pass rushing from the weak side. Page and Pollard are thebiggest combo platter in the NFL in the deep secondary. Both weigh about 225and are Polamalu-type big hitters. The question is, Are they mature enough andsmart enough to be good players and not just torpedoes?
But if this defenseis going to be great, Hali is the key. As a rookie out of Penn State he showedsuch consistent pursuit that Cunningham began playing him on both sides of theline and as a stand-up rusher at times, all to try to get him in the backfieldmore. The result: eight sacks and six forced fumbles. "If you want to begood in the NFL," Hali says, "there has to be something that separatesyou from the other rushers. With me, I think it's being relentless on everyplay." Hali will be helped by having a playmaker like Edwards commandingattention. After leading the 14-2 Chargers with 141 tackles last year, ahealthy Edwards looks to have a season or two left. He and Hali could form adangerous rush tandem.
Typical of thisteam, Edwards is 34 and Hali is 23. The Chiefs will need outstanding effortsfrom the old men and the kids to make a playoff run.
COACH HERM EDWARDS(48-48 in NFL), second season with Chiefs
DWAYNE BOWE(R)"NEW ACQUISITION"
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 2"
HT 6' 3"
DAMION MCINTOSH"NEW ACQUISITION"
HT 6' 4"
SACKS 4 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
ALFONSO BOONE"NEW ACQUISITION"
SACKS 7 1/2
DONNIE EDWARDS"NEW ACQUISITION"
SACKS 2 1/2
NAPOLEON HARRIS"NEW ACQUISITION"
SACKS 2 1/2
JUSTIN MEDLOCK(R)"NEW ACQUISITION"
(R) Rookie(college statistics)
2006 RECORD 9-7NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 9/22/16 DEFENSE 18/18/16
9 at Houston
16 at Chicago
30 at San Diego
21 at Oakland
4 GREEN BAY
18 at Indianapolis
2 SAN DIEGO
9 at Denver
23 at Detroit
30 at N.Y. Jets
NFL rank T5
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .516
Games against playoff teams 5
Instant access to the latest and best Chiefs stories,stats and blogs from across the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.
ENEMY LINES AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZESUP THECHIEFS
> I don't think it matters that much if LarryJohnson or Michael Bennett runs the ball, because that's a declining offensiveline. Their tackles could get the quarterback hurt. . . . I wouldn't besurprised if Tony Gonzalez catches 110 balls in that offense, because thequarterback is going to be under fire so much and no one gets open at tight endlike Gonzalez. . . . If the Chiefs are still in contention, they have to playDamon Huard at QB. When they fall out of it, then and only then should they putin Brodie Croyle, because Huard's twice the player and three times the gamemanager right now. . . . I like what Tank Tyler brings at defensive tackle. Fora rookie he looks tough and game-ready. . . . If Bernard Pollard is as good astrong safety as he was a special-teamer last year, the Chiefs have a hell of aplayer.
THE KING 500
He's had at least 125 tackles in each of the last 10seasons--five in San Diego and five before that in Kansas City--and hasn'tmissed a game in nine years, playing all three spots as a 4-3 'backer andinside in the 3-4. The Chargers let him walk as a free agent, and the Chiefswere happy to bring him back to play the strong side. Says K.C. president CarlPeterson, "We should never have let him go."
G. NEWMAN LOWRANCE/WIREIMAGE.COM
Hali will be freed to unleash terror from any spot on the frontseven.
DAVID E. KLUTHO