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LaChapelle
07-13-2009, 11:05 PM
-Posted in the other Babb Blogging thread, but since Chiefs stuff is scarce...

analysis: Quarterbacks

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Remember when, in recent years, Chiefs fans would go into the season wondering who Kansas City's quarterback would be? The last two years packed the most confusion, but even before that, there was a sense that, well, this is as good as it gets. The Chiefs had Steve DeBerg or Elvis Grbac or Trent Green, and that was fine, but it was tough to envision those players becoming Pro Bowlers.

Now, heck, anything is possible. The Chiefs acquired Matt Cassel in an offseason trade, and, while he could become a colossal disappointment, he also could be one of the best passers in Chiefs history. No pressure.

But if nothing else, Cassel has given the Chiefs hope that a once-rocky position is now set -- if the 27-year-old reaches even the outskirts of his expectations and, more of a question entering this year, stays healthy behind a patchwork offensive line. We'll save the pass protecting discussion for another day, but it's worth mentioning that Cassel's talent will be tough to gauge accurately if he's constantly under pressure. But you knew that.

For the record, Chiefs coach Todd Haley hasn't named Cassel the Chiefs' opening-day starting quarterback. And that's fine. When Denver coach Josh McDaniels named Kyle Orton the Broncos' starter a few weeks back, most surrounding the organization wondered aloud what the hurry was. It was obvious that Orton was the likely starter, but McDaniels essentially kicked the legs out from under Chris Simms and risked castrating Simms' effort entering a pivotal preseason for Denver, too. So it's smart on Haley's part to keep the guessing game going, even though likely backup Tyler Thigpen has said publicly that he expects this to be Cassel's team. Knowing Thigpen as I do, I don't expect that to put a wrinkle in the third-year passer's effort or desire to win his old job back.

That's one thing that struck me last year about Thigpen. He was determined and poised in an impossible situation. Here was a guy who, if you think about it, should never have started an NFL game. It doesn't have anything to do with Thigpen's talent, but it took a series of long shots for him to get that chance. And he didn't look half bad doing it. Most of the time, anyway. When Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard kept disappearing, Croyle with career-threatening injuries and Huard with mysterious issues of his own, Thigpen kept showing up. He thrived in Chan Gailey's spread formation, improving his passes and establishing trust with former tight end Tony Gonzalez. And when Gonzalez wasn't open, Thigpen scrambled for unlikely yardage gains, the Arrowhead crowd holding its breath that, oh boy, Quinn Gray is about to become the Chiefs' quarterback of the future.

Instead, Thigpen stayed healthy. Now he is likely to become what one NFL writer suggests could be the NFL's best No. 2 quarterback. That's something, considering where the Chiefs have been. Depth at quarterback, huh? What a novel concept in Kansas City.

The best part is that Thigpen seems to have the right attitude about what he easily could see as a demotion. He didn't perform so well last year that he was a slam dunk to start in 2009 or compel the Chiefs to avoid scouring the NFL for other passers, but the argument could be made that he earned the right to remain the starter -- or at least get a legitimate shot at the job. But Thigpen sees his role as he should, as Cassel's backup and support system, and he keeps saying how important it is for Thigpen to push Cassel into improving.

Let's not forget, either, that Brodie Croyle remains with the team. He'll enter the season as the Chiefs' No. 3 passer, and that's not a bad third quarterback.

The point is that the Chiefs have something they haven't had in years: a surplus at quarterback. Now we'll see if, for the first time in more recent years, those quarterbacks can stay healthy enough to sniff their potential or their coaches' expectations.

GRADING THE INTANGIBLES

TALENT: B- -- On paper, the Chiefs' drafted quarterbacks look downright miserable. Two seventh-rounders and a third. But considering the flashes each of the team's three likely opening-day quarterbacks has shown, and that's reason for optimism around Arrowhead Stadium.

CHEMISTRY: B+ -- Thigpen could have made the Cassel acquisition a lot more complicated than it has been. He might have had every right to discuss his disappointment publicly, but instead, he has accepted that Cassel is the likely starter and that he needs to be adequately pushed by capable backups.

EXPERIENCE: B -- Starting experience goes a long way, and even though the Chiefs' top two quarterbacks have combined to start 26 games, their experiences in 2008 make them viable and experienced players this season. Remember, Cassel spent several years as New England quarterback Tom Brady's understudy.

OUTLOOK: B+ -- It all depends on whether Cassel can stay healthy and productive behind that line. He seems to have an enormous amount of talent, and his experience with the Patriots last year is reason for optimism. But he'll also be under a lot of pressure, to live up to that nearly $15 million contract, do enough to attract a long-term offer, and make the Chiefs into a legit playoff team.

Submitted by Kent Babb on July 13, 2009 - 1:09pm.