Kent Babb covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star.
You can find his work at ‘The Red Zone,’ which is the KC Star’s blog on the Chiefs and the NFL. Mr. Babb is also providing regular Chiefs Twitter updates.
Links to both are below:
Mr. Babb answered a few questions from Baltimore Sports and Life last year prior to the Ravens and Chiefs season opener, and has graciously agreed to answer a few more as Baltimore prepares to visit Kansas City for the opening round of the AFC Playoffs.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “When we spoke last year, you talked about the transformation of the Chiefs from Herm Edwards to the new leadership of General Manager Scott Pioli, and Head Coach Todd Haley. In particular you pointed to how Haley runs more of a boot camp vs. training camp. Was there any differences you noticed in Haley in his 2nd season vs. his rookie year?”
Kent Babb: “He definitely calmed down somewhat, and there are probably several reasons for it. For one, he hired two veteran coordinators in Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel who aren’t afraid to stand up to him and tell him he’s wrong or has made a bad decision. And with two strong coordinators, Haley has been able to oversee a bigger-picture side of the team that he wasn’t able to deal with last year, when he was the Chiefs’ acting offensive coordinator, too. Haley also says the tough-guy act last year was a little bit contrived, more to get his players’ attention that mistakes wouldn’t be tolerated, and kind of a culture-shift type of thing, rather than a true indicator that he’s actually a madman.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The Running Backs Thomas Jones, and Jamaal Charles combined for 475 carries, and 2,363 rushing yards. They also had 59 receptions for another 590 receiving yards. After a 5.9 yard per carry average last year, Charles upped that to a remarkable 6.38 ypc (2nd all time) this season.
I note that over the last 4 games that the 32 year-old Jones has had 66 carries for 183 yards (2.8 ypc). Has Jones hit a wall? Considering Charles also appears to be the better pass-receiver, do you expect Jones to be used sparingly Sunday?”
Kent Babb: “Because of Jones’ age, every time he hits a dry spell, there’s going to be a fear that he’s finished. And he might be. He’s also clearly a short-yardage runner with a style that doesn’t necessarily put up huge numbers without help. A lot of teams crowded the line of scrimmage this season to slow down the Chiefs’ rushers, and I think Jones was a bit of a victim of that. I think the Chiefs will probably use the same carries distribution that they’ve used most of this season, which is giving Jones about the same number as they give Charles. Charles is clearly the more spectacular back, but at this point, why mess with something that has worked?”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “By all reports WR Dwayne Bowe bought into Haley’s system this year and worked harder. With his 1,162 receiving yards (72 receptions) the 6’2, 221 lb Bowe earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Obviously Bowe is talented in his own right, but I imagine where he has put up his biggest numbers is when defenses have stacked the box against the run – giving Bowe single coverage on the outside. Is that accurate, or have all teams provided double-coverage on Bowe?”
Kent Babb: “That definitely has something to do with it, but it’s clear that Bowe has taken the biggest steps of his career — and for good reason. His career was dangerously close to derailing after yet another unproductive season in 2009 and a chaotic offseason following it. So it’s good that Bowe finally took stock in what his career was becoming, and got it together. Haley, who’s a former receivers coach, deserves a lot of credit for shaping Bowe into a big-play threat and not some knucklehead, which he was for his previous three years.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Rookie Dexter McCluster has been huge in the Kick and Punt return games. How has he progressed as a receiver during the year?”
Kent Babb: “McCluster has been OK this year. Most of that is because he suffered a high-ankle sprain and missed five games, and that’s tough to come back from for a small, shifty guy like McCluster. An ankle injury for him is a big deal, and that has been a big deal for the Chiefs. To this point, he hasn’t been as explosive as the team thought he might be, but the Chiefs still have very high hopes for him in the future and how he’ll work in this offense.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Veteran WR Chris Chambers was productive with KC during the last 9 games last year, averaging 16.9 ypc on 36 receptions. This year he had just 22 receptions for the season with just 9.7 ypc. Is he still capable of stretching the field?”
Kent Babb: “It doesn’t look like it. The fear with Chambers is that he got a new contract last year and took his foot off the gas. He’s been guilty of that at times in the past, and maybe that’s the case this year. He clearly hasn’t been as effective, so it’s easy to think he’s just slacking off. The other thing about Chambers is that he’s getting older, like Thomas Jones, and he might just be slowing down. Regardless, I don’t think the Chiefs see him as more than a short-term fix, especially going into the next offseason, when wide receiver will be one of their top needs in free agency or the draft.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Rookie TE Tony Moeaki had an outstanding year (47 receptions, 556 yards). How is he as a blocker?”
Kent Babb: “He’s solid, but the Chiefs see him more as a receiving tight end. Moeaki is a little small for a tight end, so he’s maybe not as effective against some of the bigger defenders. But considering the Chiefs would prefer to use him in the passing game, and move someone like Leonard Pope out to block, they make it work.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “When we last spoke, LT Branden Albert was a promising player going into his 2nd season. Now he has just finished his 3rd full-year. Thoughts on his maturation as a player?
Kent Babb: “He’s been better this year than he was last year, when he had a pretty brutal season. Lots of sacks allowed, lots of penalties. The Chiefs simply can’t handle that, especially not from a former first-round pick who, at least last off-season, they still believed in to the point that they passed on some pretty tempting tackle prospects in the draft. I think the Chiefs like Albert but haven’t seen enough from him to know that he’s their long-term left tackle. Kansas City will need to upgrade at the tackle position again this off-season, and while the team absolutely needs a right tackle, it also might be tempted to go after a left tackle as well.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Next to Babb, is 5x Pro Bowl LG Brian Waters. Clearly the left-side is the strength of the line. What can you tell me about the other starters C Casey Wiegmann, RG Ryan Lilja, and RT Ryan O’Callaghan?”
Kent Babb: “Lilja has been good, and Wiegmann has been consistent, which is a terrific compliment for a center. The right tackle spot has been weak most of this season, same as last year, and O’Callaghan lost his job early on to Barry Richardson, a guy who really isn’t equipped to be a starting NFL lineman. The Chiefs clearly have to upgrade at center and right tackle during the next offseason, because Wiegmann is 38 years old and Richardson just doesn’t seem to have the talent to be a starter.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Has Glenn Dorsey worked harder over the last two years, than he did as a rookie? You had commented about how he was being converted to RDE, and is really built for DT. With 3 combined sacks in 2009 and 2010, he does not look like a pass-rusher. Thoughts on him, and the progression of 2009 1st rounder LDE Tyson Jackson?”
Kent Babb: “For sure. Dorsey had to make some big adjustments to fit in with the 3-4 defense, and one of those was slimming down — a lot. He lost something like 40 pounds during the 2009 offseason, and he has been very effective during the time since. He might never be a superstar, at least to the level the Chiefs thought he’d be when they drafted him out of LSU, but he’s good enough. The Chiefs are proud that they’ve gotten something out of Dorsey, especially considering his outlook looked pretty bleak there for a while. Which is exactly where Tyson Jackson is: It doesn’t appear that Jackson will ever be productive, and after a pretty forgettable second season, it’s looking more and more like last year’s third overall pick is a bust.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “It is an interesting LB corps for the Chiefs. At LOLB is 36 year-old veteran Mike Vrabel. A 2nd year player LILB Jovan Belcher is next to Vrabel. On the other-side is two former 1st rounders Derrick Johnson at RILB, and Tamba Hali with his 15 sacks at ROLB. Does Vrabel have anything left as a player? What are the strengths/weaknesses of Belcher? You appreciate Hali’s 15 sacks even more when you realize the rest of the team had just 7 more, just how good is he?”
Kent Babb: “Vrabel doesn’t have much left, and I’ll be a little surprised if the Chiefs bring him back next year. His contract is scheduled to run out, and because of his age, it just doesn’t make much sense to keep him around. His skills dropped off this season, so the team will have to replace him. The Chiefs also will have to upgrade at inside linebacker, because Belcher has been OK, but he was an undrafted rookie last year out of Maine, and although he has played better than everyone thought, he doesn’t have elite-level talent. The Chiefs have been weak this season in the middle of their defense, and they’ll be smart to solidify that unit in free agency or in the draft.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Last year you believed CB Brandon Flowers (5’9, 187 lbs) could be on the verge of multiple Pro Bowls. I would guess he draws the oppositions best receiver each week? Next to him is the Rookie 1st round pick SS Eric Berry. The 5th overall pick is being mentioned with the best Safeties in the game. Where can he improve? The 2nd round pick was Javier Arenas. Is he pushing Brandon Carr at the other CB?”
Kent Babb: “I think Berry is a rising star, although he hasn’t been perfect this season. He’s been confused in some coverages and hasn’t always known his assignment. But those aren’t things that the Chiefs are especially worried about. He’s a great person and an unbelievably talented player, and his shortcomings seem to be more rookie mistakes than signs of a larger problem. The Chiefs have a terrific young secondary, and Berry will be a major part of that. Arenas is more of a kick returner than a long-term fix at cornerback. Brandon Carr has been good, and Arenas has been only OK this season. Sure, he can improve and maybe be a surprise player down the road, but I don’t see him as much more than a nickel corner.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis is leaving the Chiefs after the playoffs to become the OC at the University of Florida. While the Chiefs have offered public congrats, is there any bristling behind the scenes of this being a distraction to the roster?”
Kent Babb: “The team can’t be happy with the timing, but it’s at least glad it was last week and not this week, when it’s trying to prepare for a playoff game. Weis and Todd Haley got along well enough, but they both have strong personalities that definitely clashed at times. Weis was seen as a short-term fix, and the team kind of expected him to be looking elsewhere — for a lot of reasons — after this season. Now Haley has a big question on how he’ll replace Weis. If he gets a yes-man who won’t challenge him, then that’ll be disappointing and a sign the coach hasn’t grown as much as we’ve thought. If he gets an experienced coordinator to replace Weis, and someone who can work with quarterbacks, then he’ll have pulled off another coup.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The Chiefs reaching the post-season with a balanced-team (the 12th ranked Offense, and 14th ranked Defense). Despite that, the Ravens have been established as 2.5 to 3 point favorite. I see a well coached team with a lot of young talent, that went 5 and 2 down the stretch. We also know that Arrowhead has long been known as a difficult destination to win at.
I guess my question with the Chiefs is what happened Sunday? Oakland was able to run right at the Chiefs, and also sacked Cassel 7 times. What is your prediction for Sunday, and do you expect KC will be ready to play a physical game?”
Kent Babb: “There could be a lot of reasons Sunday was an awful day for the Chiefs. The Weis situation might have been a distraction, and the team also might have been looking past the Raiders toward the playoff week. Regardless it was a bad performance, and it’s one the Chiefs have to flush quickly. Whether they’ll be able to, is the million-dollar question this week. I think Kansas City is a little overmatched, even at home, but there’s still no denying that what the Chiefs have done is impressive, especially after winning 10 games the previous three seasons combined. I’ll be picking the Ravens to win.”