ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs experienced a crash course in the NFL during their three weeks at Missouri Western State University.
In many ways, it was a remedial course.
Sure, the rookies had to acclimate themselves to the rigors of professional football after the lockout wiped out offseason team activities. The veterans had to get back in shape, the newcomers had to learn the playbook and the coaching staff had to gel after offensive coordinator Charlie Weis departed for Florida.
But they also learned things like how to come out of the tunnel for pregame warm-ups, how to find the plane for charter flights, how to dress in public settings and how to act in the team hotel.
The idea was that by putting everyone on a level playing field, from first-year guys trying to make the squad to high-priced stars like Tamba Hali, the Chiefs could emerge as a more cohesive team.
As they break training camp and head back to Kansas City, where they’ll resume practice after Friday night’s preseason game at Baltimore, coach Todd Haley feels content with the work they’ve done.
“Training camp is training camp, you know?” Haley said Wednesday. “All things aside, it’s a chance for the team to kind of come together and really become a team, because each year is a new group of guys. There are always changes. It’s never the same. This is a new group of guys.”
Haley spent more time than usual — and perhaps more time than any other team in the league — on things like preparation and conditioning during the time in St. Joseph, Mo. The Chiefs hardly hit each other the first two weeks of practice, and even after a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay last weekend, they’ve kept contact to a minimum.
It’s all been part of “the plan,” which Haley and the rest of the coaches have repeatedly brought up without ever disclosing details. Nevertheless, players seem to have bought into it.
“No one likes losing, but at the same time we understand it is preseason,” safety Eric Berry said, referring to the flop against the Buccaneers. “Like I said, coach has a plan. He’s going to play us how he wants to play us, and we’re just going to keep doing whatever he puts in place.”
That blind allegiance has a lot to do with the success Haley brought to Kansas City.
The Chiefs were just 2-14 in their final year under Herm Edwards, but they doubled their win total in Haley’s first season in charge. The big jump came last year, though, when Kansas City came from nowhere to finish 10-6, win the division and reach the first round of the playoffs.
Kansas City would have been perfectly happy to head straight into this season, given the amount of momentum they carried through the end of last year. But the lockout put the brakes on everything, and the Chiefs were just as affected as anyone else. They had to ramp up practice quickly once training camp finally opened, and then find a way to integrate veteran free agents who couldn’t join the team until a week later.
Then there are the new rules governing how often players can practice. Two-a-days in the traditional sense are a thing of the past, the typical full-pad morning practice replaced by a breezy walkthrough period.
“I kind of like this structure,” Chiefs wide receiver Jerheme Urban said. “Don’t kid yourself, we’re getting plenty of work in. Everybody’s body feels like we’re in the third week of training camp, so it’s still taking its toll.”
Just not like it used to.
“My dad’s teased me, saying his two-a-days were harder than this,” Urban said. “I have to remind him that I went through plenty of two-days myself.”
The one thing that everyone agreed on is that training camp has gone by in a hurry, especially compared to the snail-like pace of labor negotiations. Questions about whether Hali would sign a long-term contract have been answered; debates about the Chiefs’ salary cap situation have been put to rest.
The players even know how to dress now.
The next step is to show they can win, and that opportunity is quickly approaching.
“We’re on schedule,” Haley said in his typical, measured tone. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve made progress. There’s no doubt in my mind, we’ve made progress in the areas that were most important to us in these first two-and-a-half, three weeks.”