|Orlin Wagner / Associated Press|
|Todd Haley's grueling camp has at least one Chiefs player saying, "It's hard, it's hard ... it's really hard."|
RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- It's easy to understand why most Kansas City Chiefs players would be happy to be in the final week of "Camp Hell," also known as Todd Haley's first training camp as an NFL head coach.
The Chiefs clearly have one of the more grueling camps in the league. Haley has had his team in pads and hitting for all but one day since Aug. 1, when practices began at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He also has had his players running more than most, if not all, can remember doing at any level of football. Certainly, there aren't other NFL teams that make players run in practice as much as the Chiefs do.
"It's something your body has to get used to," tight end Brad Cottam said. "You've got to get used to getting iced up every day and getting treatment and eating a good lunch and dinner and everything. You've got to really take care of your body, because we are killing ourselves out there."
But that's how it is when the job is to turn around a team that finished 2-14 last year. Haley believes that, in order to create a winning atmosphere, he must instill greater discipline and get players accustomed to dealing with a more demanding work load.
And demanding is Haley's middle name. When players make mistakes, they must run from one end of the field to the other. It's to the point where neither Haley nor any of his assistant coaches has to tell a player to run after a mistake. The player committing the error does so automatically.
Haley also is extremely vocal during workouts. He can be constantly heard shouting encouragement and criticism, while clapping his hands. When wide receiver Terrance Copper slipped and fell during a drill, Haley, who was standing near him, said, "Come on, Cop, get up!" Copper quickly jumped to his feet.
"It's hard, it's hard ... it's really hard," linebacker Johnson said. "It's testing us."
» Dwayne Bowe still seems to have some work to do to win the confidence of Haley, who demoted the wide receiver from first to third string because he was dissatisfied with his practice habits and conditioning.
Bowe performed well after entering Saturday night's 16-10, preseason-opening loss to Houston off the bench, catching five passes for 70 yards. However, watching him in drills, you don't see a consistently strong enough effort to convince Haley that he should be a primary target.
» Scott Pioli is no stranger to the operation of an NFL front office. He spent the past nine seasons as vice president of player personnel for the New England Patriots. But he has quickly found that there is a dramatic difference when you're a team's general manager, a job he is filling for the first time with the Chiefs.
Pioli has to keep his eyes on a broader array of issues than before. That was a bit of reality that he discovered during the team's preseason opener.
"In New England, with nine years there, a lot of the operation was up and running, a lot of things took care of themselves," Pioli said. "With this situation, I was paying attention to not only what was happening on the field, but just the overall general operation, because there are a lot of people that touch the game-day experience and can possibly touch our players and affect our players prior to a game ... (such as) how many people the marketing department are bringing to our bench area, what's going on there? I think it was a little distracting at first because I'm paying attention to a lot of things that I wasn't paying attention to in the past."
» The Chiefs have to have one of the more vocal coaching staffs in the league. Besides Haley's non-stop yelling during practice, they have two other assistant coaches who can be constantly heard in Tim Krumrie (defensive line) and Bill Muir (offensive line). Both are superb teachers, and are quick to correct mistakes.
» The days of training camp being held in a remote location far from home are all but gone in the NFL. The Chiefs, one of the few to do so, are in the final days of calling the University of Wisconsin-River Falls their summer address, as they have since 1991.
Beginning next summer, they'll train at Missouri Western State University, which is only an hour drive from Kansas City compared to the seven hours it takes to get here from KC by car. The Chiefs' practices don't attract many fans, thus eliminating the chance to capitalize on marketing and sales opportunities, the primary reason most clubs practice at their own facilities or close to home.
The Chiefs have placed a great deal of focus on having a much stronger passing game. That's why they hired Haley, who previously oversaw the explosive offense of the Arizona Cardinals, as their coach. That's why they made a trade with the Patriots for Matt Cassel and then signed him to a six-year contract worth a reported $63 million contract. That's why Haley frequently barks to his quarterbacks and receivers, "Score every time we touch the ball!"
So far, however, the Chiefs haven't shown a whole lot of noticeable improvement in how they throw the ball.
During practice and an intrasquad scrimmage, their aerial attack has not looked particularly sharp. And the trend continued against the Texans. Cassel completed only two of five passes for 15 yards.
This is the same quarterback who 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns in place of the injured Tom Brady last season. What isn't the same for Cassel is a receiving corps that lacks exceptionally talented players such as Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Haley also has quickly come to the realization that he no longer has Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin at receiver.
This looks like a work in progress ... with emphasis on the work part.
Part of that is because he didn't sign his contract until a week after camp began. But the bigger problem appears to be his need to develop better techniques in hand-to-hand combat with offensive linemen. At LSU, Jackson rarely needed to rely on being a good technician. He was able to get the better of most opponents with his athletic ability and strength. It's different in the NFL, where experienced offensive linemen know how to lock onto a defender and prevent him from getting separation.
"Overall, it's been a learning experience," Jackson said. "I still have a whole lot to do and I still have a whole lot to get better at. Just using my hands better -- staying low, getting under my shoulder pads, and delivering a blow to offensive linemen. That, and using my hands more as far as extension goes and just to get off of offensive linemen to make the play on the running back."
» The only placekicker the Chiefs have in training camp is seventh-round choice Ryan Succop, who, as the final pick of the draft, was "Mr. Irrelevant" for 2009. Against the Texans, he nailed a 47-yard field goal in the rain and both of his kickoffs reached the end zone. He also has shown good consistency in practice.
But just because there are no other placekickers on the roster doesn't mean Succop lacks competition.
"We made it very clear to Ryan that he wasn't going to be the only kicker in camp because he's won the job," Pioli said. "He actually needs to understand that this is pressure. He's the only guy here, and if he doesn't do the job, we're quickly going to find someone else. There are always a number of long-snappers, punters, and kickers that are NFL quality that are sitting out on the street not doing anything, and there's a good chance that they're going to be playing in the league somewhere this year."
» When the Chiefs made Colin Brown their fifth-round draft pick from Missouri, they envisioned him playing at right offensive tackle, his position in college. Sure enough, the 6-foot-7, 337-pound Brown lined up there at the start of camp, but after a week, he moved to right guard, where he has performed significantly better. It seems Brown's effectiveness at tackle in college was likely enhanced by Missouri's base no-huddle offense, which is not the Chiefs' scheme.
You look at the Chiefs' offensive and defensive linemen, and you don't see any of the large bellies that are somewhat common for the position.
The players are large, but generally lean. From the start of offseason workouts, Haley has emphasized that his team be in top physical condition. He is proud that the team has lost about 760 pounds (mostly shed by linemen), and it shows on the field.
The linemen all show good movement. They might not necessarily be meshing all that well at this point, but they are pretty light on their feet.
The question is, are they too light? We won't have that answer until the season begins.
"Coach (Haley) made a point to tell us, 'There's no light at the end of the tunnel right now.' So we're not looking for a way out. We're just grinding, grinding, grinding." -- Linebacker Derrick Johnson.
» Clearly uncomfortable with what they have at wide receiver, the Chiefs on Sunday added Ashley Lelie, who practiced with the team Monday morning. Lelie didn't do a whole lot on the field, but the team is hoping, with his speed, he could provide a game-breaking threat. They'd be satisfied to get anything close to what he was in his top form after joining the Broncos as a first-round pick in 2002.
» The Chiefs have been smart about their transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. They are not doing a wholesale change. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is using a hybrid scheme that incorporates elements of the 4-3, as well as the base 3-4. Only two players face major adjustments: Tamba Hali and Turk McBride, both of whom are switching from end to outside linebacker. They clearly have work to do to get comfortable.
» The Chiefs aren't expecting to use the tight end as a receiver as much as they did with Tony Gonzalez, whom they traded to Atlanta. Although Cottam hasn't seen much indication of heavy tight end involvement in practice, he knows that could change once the regular season begins and the Chiefs actually game plan for opponents.
» Veteran linebacker Zach Thomas missed his 11th day of camp with a suspected injury to his left hamstring or quadriceps, but he isn't worried. "I'm feeling a lot better," Thomas said. "It is the preseason and I want to definitely be smart, be ready for that first (regular-season) game, for sure. But I definitely need to get back out there and get in football shape."