Just two years ago the Kansas City Chiefs made a bold move, a risky move and it appears like it was the exact move the franchise needed to make to get back to relevance. After suffering through another tough season in 2008, the Chiefs swung a deal for an unheralded quarterback. Matt Cassel was a backup in college. Then he went to New England and backed up Tom Brady until Brady’s injury opened the door for him to shine to the tune of 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns Following the season the Chiefs traded for Cassel and then gave him a huge contract, hoping he would be the team’s franchise quarterback for years to come. After a tough first season as a full-time starter, Cassel paid big dividends last year as Kansas City surprised everyone in the NFL once again.
After three straight years finishing in last place in the AFC West, the Chiefs vaulted all the way to the top of their division and took the crown from the San Diego Chargers, a crown they had worn for the previous four years. The Chiefs emerged as one of the most prolific offenses in the league with weapons all over the place. Thomas Jones was brought in to be the thunder to Jamaal Charles’ lightning, Dwayne Bowe had the best year of his career, and Matt Cassel engineered the offense with a Pro Bowl caliber season, the kind of season that the Chiefs felt he was capable of when they took the risk on a career backup two years ago. Matt Cassel joined WHB in Kansas City with Kevin Kietzman to talk about how tough it is to practice without their full team right now, on the learning curve for some of the wide receivers that can’t practice, how important it is to have a young offensive group to grow with, how Kansas City compared to New England, how tough it for to have yet another new offensive coordinator, and what kind of attitude he expects following an early playoff exit last year.
How tough it is to practice without their full team right now
“While we don’t have a full complement of players I do believe we have been getting a lot of great work in. I’m excited about the guys that are coming in. We will be out on the field tomorrow and getting an opportunity to practice with them. At the same time we’ve gotten a ton of work in and a lot of the guys are returning starters that helped us last year and will help us this year too.”
On the learning curve for some of the receivers that can’t practice:
“I think you bring up a great point and I think with every offense it’s about building chemistry and getting that rapport and timing down with receivers. I think the fortunate thing for us, just like I stated before, we’ve got a lot of guys that have been on the field before, know our offense, and we’re not bringing too many new faces in. At the same time we’re gonna have to get those guys up to speed immediately that hopefully can come in and contribute right away like the (Steve) Breaston’s of the world, like the (Jonathan) Baldwin’s of the world. We really need them to step up and their learning curve is going to be so steep this year just because you didn’t have the opportunity to go through OTA’s, mini-camps, and all that stuff. It’s gonna rely heavily on the coaches and also the players and taking the extra time to really help them learn the offensive playbook.”
On the young group the Chiefs have on offense:
“That’s the exciting part. We do have a young group. It’s not just on the offensive side of the ball, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. You look at our secondary and it’s amazing to see the youth on both sides of the ball. It’s developing for now and also into the future. The exciting part is we have so much youth and you can develop it year in and year out and continue to get better. That’s the exciting thing about the Kansas City Chiefs.”
How Kansas City compares with New England:
“I think every team and every organization has its own characteristics but absolutely it reminds me of New England in so many different ways. Just because the way Scott (Pioli) does it, he does it in such a way and his approach is always consistent and he always talks about the right 53. I’m sure he gets a lot of stuff for that because you hear it and it’s so true because you look at the dynamics of the locker room and how people get along and how these guys work and we really have brought in a great group of guys that want to work and want to win. They’re doing the right things. That’s the fun part about being with this organization and with the leadership of Scott Pioli. He knows where to take us and we’ve been going that way and everybody has responded well.”
Whether or not it is concerning to him that he has yet another new offensive coordinator:
“You really can’t let it affect you because as long as I’ve been in the NFL, every single year and every single team I’ve been on there’s been turnover whether it’s with key players or the coaching staff. Every team is going to be different and every team is gonna have a unique setup. You can’t use that as an excuse or a crutch. Right now I don’t know who’s gonna call plays either. I do know that the guys we have here with Coach Haley, Muir, and Zorn are all capable guys and have called plays before. I think that they will work together well. Coach Muir has done it and has been running the offensive schemes in practice and it has gone really, really well. He’s a guy that knows the run game, the ins and outs of it. Coach Haley is obviously fantastic in the pass game and Coach Zorn has done the pass game and the run game as well. It will be interesting to see for myself as well but for us right now it’s just about getting out there and getting work and starting to establish chemistry.”
Whether or not the team will come with a chip on their shoulder after their early exit from the playoffs:
“I hope we come in with that mentality and we come in with that mentality that hey we want to be the team that teams look to. We don’t want to be the team that is just like the team that everyone thinks is going to finish in the bottom somewhere. We want to be that team where people say ‘hey we better get ready for the Kansas City Chiefs.’ That’s the mentality that we need to have. We’re not looking to be just an average team. We’re looking to be the top of our division. That’s our goal year in and year out is to win the AFC West because that’s the only way to get into the playoffs and get a shot at our ultimate goal which is to win a Super Bowl. While last year was great and I think in many regards was a successful season, you look at how we ended the year with the loss at home to the Raiders and also the loss to Baltimore. That turned out to be a failure for us. I think that a lot of people know that the taste that we ended last season with and we’re not happy about it. We know we still have a lot of work to go and a lot of strides to be made. We’re eager to get out here and you can see it with the way we’re working right now. Everybody has got a great determination about themselves and are ready to go.”