KANSAS CITY -- From the outside looking in, it all looks the same. The Kansas City Chiefs haven't changed their address in the athletic complex they share with the Kansas City Royals.
But walk in the glass doors, and it's just the opposite. At one desk is Andy Reid, coaching a new team for the first time since 1999. At another desk adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium is John Dorsey, the new general manager who cut his teeth learning the ways of the Green Bay Packers.
And inside that locker room is the core group of players left from a 2-14 debacle, surrounded by all that free agency, the trading block and the 2013 NFL Draft brought. And they are starving for some success.
"I believe we have added talent, depth," Dorsey told me. "We've added the belief system within that locker room."
The makeover isn't complete. But Kansas City likes where it's headed. Here are five things I learned in my day with the Chiefs:
1) Andy Reid finally nabbed Alex Smith: Stunningly, the Chiefs' 2012 roster featured six Pro Bowlers. Where'd the 2-14 record come from? Gaping holes elsewhere, particularly at the quarterback position. When Reid brought the West Coast system over to K.C., he wanted one player to run it: Smith, the former San Francisco 49ers leader who maintained his poise last season despite being supplanted by Colin Kaepernick. The truth is, Reid has coveted Smith for years, going back to the quarterback's college days at Utah. Urban Meyer, a Reid friend, was the coach of those Utes teams, with Kyle Whittingham, Reid's college teammate at BYU, serving as the defensive coordinator. (Whittingham's dad actually recruited Reid to BYU.) "I loved him coming out," Reid told me, referring to when Smith entered the league in 2005 and Reid was still coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. "Like, Man this guy would be great in our offense. But we had one that was pretty good." Yes, Donovan McNabb wasn't too shabby at that time. But at some point, when McNabb was on his way out, Reid put out feelers to the Niners about Smith. "I kept my ears open," he said. And because Philadelphia happened to play San Francisco so much, Reid could watch the maturation up close. He got to see Smith grow up. When Reid took over the Chiefs, Smith could be his guy -- finally. Why has he remained so smitten with the signal-caller? It's as much about Smith's off-field demeanor as his on-field actions. "Great locker room guy," Reid told me, "understands the game, has the physical tools. He's won and he has a certain mentality. But he also has been through tough times and good times and hasn't changed. He has the work ethic and presence. That's why."
2) Now, about this other trade with San Francisco ... : Early in the week, the Chiefs and 49ers pulled off a rare player-for-player trade involving two recent first-round picks. Kansas City received A.J. Jenkins (who went 30th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft), and San Francisco landed Jon Baldwin (26th in 2011). While Jenkins and Baldwin have eye-popping tools, both players have left personnel people scratching their heads. And neither was proving to be an ideal fit for his team's system. The Chiefs loved Baldwin's professionalism and work ethic, but they felt the pressure to produce was overwhelming the third-year man. Meanwhile, Jenkins spent the summer working out with Kaepernick, but the results just weren't showing up on the field. So Dorsey and Niners GM Trent Baalke both went looking around for possible fits, and eventually made a swap. Baldwin is more of a "post-up" receiver, as Dorsey said, while Jenkins is a speed-and-quickness player. "It's a fresh start for both guys," Dorsey said. "I think A.J.'s skill set fits this offense a little bit better." In trades, we always want to know who won. Dorsey had an answer for that, though it's not one you'd expect. "At the end of the day, the kids won. OK? So why not be fair? The kids won. Sometimes, in the NFL, that's not a bad thing," he told me. "We're so competitive in society, sometimes it's like, 'OK, who won this? Who won that?' You know what? The kids won this one."
3) With plenty of talented players, success may hinge on something else: Like I mentioned before, the 2012 Chiefs had three times as many Pro Bowlers as wins. This is mind-boggling. Sure, they turned the ball over a ton (Matt Cassel had 19 turnovers in nine games) and made countless mistakes, but they obviously had talent. And this made K.C. one of the better landing spots for any head coach. Jamaal Charles can take it the distance on any play. Dwayne Bowe has been a top-tier receiver in this league, and Reid said, "He's healthy now, he feels good and he's loving every minute of it." The Chiefs will feature him. On defense, Tamba Hali is a pass-rushing talent on stacked unit, while Eric Berry is a rare top-five pick a safety. One player in particular to watch? Dontari Poe, the developing nose tackle who went No. 11 overall in 2012. "He's a very talented guy," new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "He has exceptional size. He's got very good athleticism for a big man. He can change direction, has good stamina, plays hard. He's got a really bright future." With all of these pieces, how was this a two-win team? "Honestly, we've never talked about it," Sutton told me. "Never said a word about last year, we really didn't ... These are our players and there's a lot of things that go into any season that changes the outcomes of games." What Sutton does like is the attitude, which Reid and Dorsey raved about, too. "We're trying to develop a certain culture here," Sutton said. "It's not what you do but how you do it."
4) Reid is at peace with just coaching: Reid was talking about meshing the new talent with the old talent, how offseason additions have bonded with those still around. Suddenly, he stopped and credited Dorsey for his creativity and judgment. "I'm out of the personnel business." Reid smiled. Later in the conversation, he said it again. You think Reid is happy? Think he's content fully concentrating on coaching, rather than spending much of his time dipping his hands in the personnel department? No doubt about it -- this is a man at peace. While he did play a part in the Smith acquisition, for the most part, Reid's thrilled to get back to teaching, coaching and watching film. He thoroughly enjoys working with the players given to him by his buddy Dorsey, who is on his same wavelength. That's the underrated part of this. It's not just that the Chiefs get the services of Reid, who built a consistent and steady winner in Philly, the most volatile of places; it's that Kansas City gets a rejuvenated Reid, one with a clear mind who can go back to his roots. And Reid loves the players who have been brought in. "Bringing in guys that are solid guys, they get it," he said. "They're all-in with the guys that are here, they respect the guys that started to build before they got here. You also gotta keep in mind what the makeup was of the guys that are here. My hat goes off to the guys that are here."
5) Focus on the top pick: When it came time to pick the No. 1 selection of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Chiefs considered four players: offensive tackles Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson, along with pass rusher Dion Jordan. In the end, the choice was Fisher, the Central Michigan star. The Chiefs were thrilled to take him, with Dorsey saying, "I like everything about him. I like his person, I like his explosive athleticism, I like how he uses his hands." Yet it hasn't all been perfect for Fisher thus far. He struggled some in the first two preseason games, with Pro Football Focus giving him a -4.5 after his second game. (Yeah, that's not good.) Yet Dorsey also explained Fisher is battling through injuries. He has gamekeeper's thumb and another finger injury on the other hand. He also has a soft-tissue injury in one shoulder, which Dorsey cited as particularly impactful: "He can't fully engage 100 percent. So he's got to work through that." Yet the belief is he'll be healthy sooner rather than later. The Chiefs remain thrilled with what they have. "What does he need to do?" Dorsey asked. "He needs to technically begin to learn the angles and speed of the game. He needs to get his little levers fixed up here. Once he works through that, I have no reservations about him whatsoever."
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