Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

July 26, 2013

Chiefs show up to camp expecting better results

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Eric Berry didn’t even allow a question about last season to be asked before cutting off the inquiring mind. There was no way he was going to relive that nightmare.

The Kansas City Chiefs scuffled along to a 2-14 finish, matching the worst in a proud franchise’s history. Along the way, they endured a nasty fan revolt that included plenty of folks wearing paper bags to Arrowhead Stadium, and a grisly murder-suicide involving a teammate.

So, quite naturally, Berry would rather speak optimistically about a fresh start.

“We’ve got standards for ourselves, so we have a lot of stuff to prove,” the Pro Bowl safety said Thursday. “We’re not worried about outside opinions or factors or anything like that. We are just focused on coming in, jelling as a unit and just taking it from there.”

That all starts with the first full-squad workout of training camp on Friday.

Berry was among the veteran players who were trickling into training camp on the campus of Missouri Western State University. They joined rookies, quarterbacks and a few selected veterans who were able to get a head start over the past few days.

“We’re excited about this year, as far as where we’re going and the direction we’re headed,” Berry said, before adding of last year: “I don’t really want to compare the two.”

In truth, the Chiefs had similarly high expectations last year after a strong finish to a tumultuous 2011 season. But they were blown out in their opener, struggled to score points behind a revolving door at quarterback, and then watched as the season spiraled out of control.

At one point, departed offensive lineman Eric Winston ripped into a few supporters for cheering when former quarterback Matt Cassel got hurt, and that only inflamed a simmering fan discontent. A grass roots group started ponying up money to pay for a banner to be towed behind an airplane prior to several home games asking Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt to fire unpopular GM Scott Pioli.

The fans ultimately got their wish with an emphatic January housecleaning.

Romeo Crennel was out as head coach, Pioli was sent packing soon after, and Hunt announced he’d be taking a more hands-on approach to running the team.

It was Hunt who moved swiftly to hire coach Andy Reid just days after he was let go following 14 season with Philadelphia. Then, Hunt managed to secure the hottest front office candidate in the NFL in longtime Packers personnel man John Dorsey as his general manager.

Reid and Dorsey quickly set about overhauling a roster that had six Pro Bowl players but massive holes at just about every other position, and a perilous lack of depth across the board.

“We’re approaching this year with a fresh start,” said wide receiver Dexter McCluster, suddenly one of the Chiefs’ elder statesmen. “New coach, new players, new team, new year.”

The new player under the harshest spotlight is undoubtedly Alex Smith, who was starting to flourish as the quarterback in San Francisco before getting hurt last season. He ultimately lost his job to Colin Kaepernick during the 49ers’ Super Bowl run and then became trade bait.

The Chiefs wasted little time snatching him up, perhaps finally achieving some stability at the most important position on the field for the first time in nearly a decade.

Dorsey and Reid then went on a shopping spree, signing a free-agent class that included wide receiver Donnie Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano and defensive backs Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith, both of whom will be counted on to help a pass defense that was dismal last season.

“We’re going to be way better,” Robinson promised. “We’re going to be a playoff team.”

That’s a mighty strong prediction for a team that won just two games, but it would hardly be an unprecedented turnaround. Just last season, the Indianapolis Colts went from two wins to 11-5 and the playoffs behind vastly improved quarterback play — they had drafted Andrew Luck.

“We have plenty of talent,” Sean Smith said. “We have plenty of Pro Bowlers on this team. The talent is here. We just have to put it all together.”

As the saying goes, there’s no better time than the present.

While the Chiefs have plenty of young contributors, some of their best players are well into the prime of their careers. Pro Bowl linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson have been around for nearly a decade, and even running back Jamaal Charles has some wear on his legs.

Hali wondered whether his window to win is starting to close.

“We’re getting older and it’s starting to hit you more,” he said. “Eight years ago, it was fun coming out here and proving you can play the game, but at this stage in your career, you want to prove something. You want to win a Super Bowl. You want to accomplish something.

“Playing football and making money, that’s not the goal,” Hali added after moving into his training camp dorm room. “It’s to win a championship here for the Chiefs.”

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