KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Take a look back at the roster the Chiefs trotted out for their season finale last year, and then slide it up next to the roster they’re expected to field this season.
There may be no team in the NFL that will enjoy such an influx of talented players.
Of course, most of them aren’t really newcomers. It just feels that way.
All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles will be back to carry the ball. Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Cassel will be back throwing it, and tight end Tony Moeaki catching it.
Another former Pro Bowl pick, safety Eric Berry, will be helping to defend the other end of the field, while veteran right tackle Eric Winston leads a collection of free-agent upgrades across the starting lineup.
Kansas City should look nothing like the team that finished last season, and as far as coach Romeo Crennel is concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.
“I feel like we’ve made progress during the offseason. I’m encouraged by the installation of the offense, the installation of special teams and defensively, we looked at different things that we don’t normally do. So, we got good exposure there,” Crennel said. “I saw some players improve as we went through this. Now we’ll put on the pads, and we’ll see what they really can do.”
That’s where Crennel will find out whether everybody is actually up to speed.
Charles, Berry and Moeaki became forever linked last season when they went down in consecutive weeks to season-ending torn ligaments in their left knees. All of them participated to some extent in the offseason program, but they didn’t take part in any of the contact drills.
Charles was coming off a breakout season in which he ran for more than 1,400 yards, but he went down in Week 2 against Detroit. That followed the loss of Berry in last season’s opener and Moeaki in the Chiefs’ preseason finale against Green Bay.
All three players have said they’ll be ready when camp opens today in St. Joseph, Mo.
“I’m doing great. I know I’m ready to play,” said Charles, who was still awaiting clearance at the end of the offseason program. “Even though we were doing minicamp and all that, just getting my body rested up so when real training camp starts up, it’ll be ready to go.”
Cassel was able to participate fully in the offseason program after a season-ending injury to the thumb on his throwing hand. That should settle a quarterback situation that turned into a disaster — Tyler Palko started several games — and in part sent the season spiraling out of control.
Things got so bad that former head coach Todd Haley, now an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was fired in December.
“I think your approach is always trying to come back and work hard each and every day, like I have in the past,” said Cassel, who along with the rest of the offense spent the offseason trying to learn the system run by new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
“Then again, every team is different every single year, so it’s building a new rapport, new relationships with these receivers, getting familiar with your new personnel that you have out there — guys like Peyton Hillis and Kevin Boss,” Cassel said, “and then just continuing to work.”
Cassel believes that the Chiefs have most of the offense in place as they head into training camp, though it’s impossible to say whether wide receiver Dwayne Bowe will be up to speed.
Cassel’s top target skipped the entire offseason program while refusing to sign his franchise tender, which is worth about $9.4 million. Bowe would like a long-term deal, but the Chiefs have been reluctant — or unable — to sign a player who has put up massive numbers the past few years but who also carries plenty of baggage into the locker room.
Even with the Chiefs’ revolving door behind center last season, Bowe still managed to catch 81 passes for 1,159 yards and five touchdowns — his third 1,000-yard season in four years.
“Well, you like to have your good players with you because every year you have to develop a new team chemistry,” Crennel said, “so he’s missing this opportunity to grow and develop with his teammates. There is nothing that I can do about that.”
Bowe has laid low throughout the offseason, but in at least one interview said that he planned to be on the field when training camp finally starts about an hour’s drive north of Kansas City.
“It’s just the nature of the beast that we’re dealing with,” Crennel said. “I think that he will be here eventually. When he gets here, we’ll have to try to catch him up, and he’ll have to work at it to get up to speed. Then we’ll see if he can help us at that time.”
In the meantime, the Chiefs will focus on all those players finally returning to the field.
“It won’t be long,” Crennel said. “It’s all the way live, and it’s for real. They have to understand that and everybody has to put their best foot forward to give us the best chance.”