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Chiefs rookies adapting after wacky offseason
spt ap Chiefs Stanzi
Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks Tyler Palko (4) and Ricky Stanzi (13) talk during practice at NFL training camp on Sunday in St. Joseph, Mo. - photo by AP Photo

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Ricky Stanzi didn't pick up his first NFL playbook until about a week ago. He'd better be good at digesting that thick binder full of information, though, because his first preseason game with the Kansas City Chiefs is little more than a week away.

The disorganized and disjointed offseason brought on by maddening labor strife has been particularly hard on first-year players trying to find their way in professional football. Without rookie minicamps and organized team activities, guys such as Stanzi have been forced to play catch-up throughout the first week of training camp.

"We knew it would be a little tough. We're just adjusting to it," said Stanzi, who was selected in the fifth round out of Iowa. "You just have to deal with the hand that you were given."

Stanzi was able to work out with a few of his new teammates during an informal minicamp in Kansas City, but with no playbooks available, he couldn't get started on the nuances of the Chiefs' offense. Instead, he spent the rest of the summer working out on his own in Iowa City and back home in Ohio.

"There are some things that are the same, but overall it's a different game," Stanzi said after a walkthrough Wednesday morning. "There's an adjustment period. It's the same thing you go through coming from high school to college. There's an adjustment period right now. I'm sure other rookies are feeling the same. You just have to kind of bear down and understand you're going to make mistakes and try to get better every day."

Rapid progress is especially important to the cast of rookies in Kansas City.

Stanzi finds himself competing with well-traveled yet inexperienced Tyler Palko for the No. 2 job behind Matt Cassel, though general manager Scott Pioli still may find a suitable, more experienced backup quarterback.

The 135th overall draft pick, Stanzi has been diligent about spending extra time after practice with passing game guru Jim Zorn. Still, Stanzi acknowledged that most of their work has been on his mechanics. Learning the playbook is up to him — and he has plenty of ground to make up.

"You kind of get the playbook thrown at you and you have to go right into camp," he said. "There wasn't the minicamp and all the normal process that goes on for a rookie."

Wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, the Chiefs' first-round pick, is on the same steep learning curve.

He's expected to complement Dwayne Bowe and free-agent signing Steve Breaston, despite a somewhat inconsistent college career at Pittsburgh that caused his draft stock to drop. But with prototypical size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) and freakish athleticism, he has the chance to excel in the NFL's expanding aerial game.

"Only thing I can control is what I'm doing," Baldwin said.

The same goes for second-round draft pick Rodney Hudson, who will be called upon to provide depth on the offensive line. And defensive linemen Allen Bailey and Jerrell Powe, who were considered projects when they were drafted but could play meaningful snaps on a front that struggled a year ago.

"Nobody is exactly ready," Hudson said. "We went a whole season without a playbook. Nobody can just come in and say they're ready. We don't know the plays and stuff."

Chiefs head coach Todd Haley expects that to change in a hurry.

The third-year coach has been forced into a balancing act unlike any other during his career. He's been trying to get rookies up to speed while simultaneously waiting for his full cadre of veterans to participate fully in practice, something that can't happen until Thursday under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Throw in the fact that traditional two-a-days are a thing of the past, and that the temperature in St. Joseph has been in the triple digits for the past week, and training camp has been an exercise in patience.

"They're having a lot thrown at them from a lot of different directions," Haley said. "Normally those guys would have been around in April on their own for a weekend, and then kind of acclimate in starting a couple weeks after that in May and June, and then training camp starts. Having missed a lot of that, these guys have their nose to the grindstone. They understand their nose needs to be to the grindstone."

Haley isn't sure who will play when the Chiefs face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener a week from Friday. Much of it will have to do with what kind of shape the remaining veterans are in when they show up.

But it will also have a lot to do with how much progress the first-year players make.

"I want to make sure I take everything into account, and we'll have a handful of practices to get an idea," Haley said. "I don't want to say anything too quick at this point. I want to evaluate how our team is doing. We've had a couple of good days of work. That's what we need. Everyone feels like we're making progress."