ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Give credit to Chiefs coach Todd Haley: He’s sticking with his plan.
It was hard to give anybody else in camp much credit after Friday night.
The team went back to work at its preseason headquarters on the campus of Missouri Western State University on Sunday, still smarting from a 25-0 thumping at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the kind of home rout that might typically cause coaches indigestion, but this season has been anything but typical.
“You have to, as a head coach, look at the big picture all the time,” Haley said in a measured tone. “It’s a different set of circumstances, and the goal is to be ready for Sept. 11, and that’s all that I’m focused on.”
That’s when the defending AFC West champions open the regular season against the Buffalo Bills, and it’s creeping up quickly. The NFL lockout resulted in a condensed offseason and a frenetic start to training camp, and there are only three more exhibitions during which the Chiefs can prepare for games that count.
“I feel really good about our plan,” Haley maintained, when asked Sunday whether he regretted the almost overly cautious approach the Chiefs have taken through the first two weeks of training camp.
The number of legit tackles during practice, so far, could be counted on two hands.
“I said it after the game, it’s the first one, not the last one, and I’m going all the way to the last one of the season,” Haley said. “We’re in training camp, and as I told the players, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Each and every day counts for us as far as getting this team where it needs to be to start the season, and where we need to be to have a successful season. I feel good about what we’re doing.”
By design, the Chiefs didn’t play wide receiver Steve Breaston, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, fullback Le’Ron McClain and several other free agent acquisitions. Veteran center Casey Wiegmann got the night off, as did banged-up defensive end Glenn Dorsey and outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who spent his first game at Arrowhead Stadium since signing a five-year, $60 million contract doing little more than wandering up and down the sideline.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson, tight end Tony Moeaki, cornerback Brandon Flowers and defensive end Wallace Gilberry were key contributors last season who never stepped foot on the field after warmups.
“We’re just worrying about the Chiefs, we’re not worried about anybody else,” said Gregg, who hopes to play Friday night against Baltimore, his former team. “We didn’t game-plan for Tampa Bay. We’re just approaching everything as training camp. Coach Haley has a plan and that’s what we’re doing.”
Part of that plan was to limit the touches for the Chiefs’ top offensive players.
Quarterback Matt Cassel played three series, one of which went three-and-out, and the other two resulting in fumbles. Running back Jamaal Charles didn’t carry the ball, top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe didn’t make a catch, and the offense managed a measly 137 yards against a Tampa Bay defense with a different set of objectives.
They wanted to pitch a shutout, and accomplished it with aplomb.
“It’s the first game of preseason, so obviously it’s an opportunity for younger guys to go out there and play, see where they are, you know?” said running back Thomas Jones, who carried twice for 25 yards. “But just for us to have a game under our belt, have some film to watch, just some details to clean up, those are the main things.”
True to Haley’s word, practice wasn’t much different from a usual Sunday.
Despite bemoaning the team’s poor tackling Friday night, there was hardly any hitting. Despite the offensive line’s inability to protect the quarterback, the big guys up front rarely went full speed against the defense.
Instead, it was another afternoon spent working mostly on conditioning and fundamentals, one more carefully planned step in Haley’s master approach to preparing the Chiefs for the regular season.
“Our approach is going to stay the same. We’ve got another week that’s going to roll by here pretty quick that we have to get a bunch of work done,” Haley said. “We can’t miss many opportunities to figure out what guys will do for us, what role they’ll play, each and every one of them, and I think that’s a critical factor here.
“We’re moving forward and, like I said, this week is going to go by pretty quick.”