View Full Version : Chiefs Babb: Haley’s first Chiefs camp includes many memorable lessons

Tribal Warfare
08-22-2009, 09:34 PM
Haley’s first Chiefs camp includes many memorable lessons (http://www.kansascity.com/sports/chiefs/story/1399080.html)
The Kansas City Star

W hen it was over, all the Chiefs wanted to do was look forward. Through the 19 summers in River Falls, Wis., few could’ve illustrated more transition than this one.

New coach, general manager, quarterback, defensive scheme — almost everything was different. It was fitting that the Chiefs hit the highway, leaving River Falls for the last time. They’ll train next year in St. Joseph.

But the past 3 1/2 weeks were educational. The Chiefs learned about themselves and the new faces surrounding them. They also learned how to live — or, in some cases, survive — in a new culture that the franchise’s leaders hope will produce success. While the team was learning its way, there was drama and intrigue, twists and guarded words. Maybe the occasional action sequence, too. With first-year coach Todd Haley running camp, an admittedly impatient man who isn’t willing to wait for success, an explosion was never impossible.

“We just have to continue to get better,” Haley said this week. “It’s a process. This whole thing is a process.”

Haley admitted that the Chiefs have accomplished some things he liked. The team achieved some other things he might not have considered — or might not have wanted to consider. Whether it was Larry Johnson’s annual pledge to be happy, the strong message sent to demoted wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, a daydreaming long snapper, or the relentless conditioning sessions the coach hopes will cure the ills of the past — these are a few of the memorable things that defined the Chiefs’ first summer at Camp Haley.

Best lesson

If the Chiefs learned one thing from their new coach, it’s that he won’t tolerate partial effort. No one is immune, and humiliation isn’t off-limits.

A half-dozen players failed a conditioning test they knew was coming for more than a month. Not only would Haley refuse to allow those players to practice, or even speak their names — “I’ll just talk about the guys that are out there practicing,” the coach said often — but he assigned them to hard time on a side field, 100 yards from their teammates but within easy heckling distance of fans.

Even worse, or at least more to Haley’s point, those players were made to perform unusual exercises, such as bear crawls and the endless transportation of heavy equipment while the better-conditioned Chiefs practiced.

One by one, the players escaped Haley’s version of the gallows. Some needed more time than others. It took defensive end Glenn Dorsey four days to pass his test.

Best hard lesson

Tanner Purdum learned the hard way that Haley’s conditioning requirements aren’t solely physical. Players had to be mentally prepared as well. If a lineman jumped offside or committed a false start, he was made to run to a wood fence and back before he could rejoin the drill. Sometimes, entire position groups or the whole team had to run if the mistake was severe enough.

But Purdum, the Chiefs’ former long snapper, paid a much higher price. During a special-teams drill in which the field-goal unit had to hurry onto the field, players lined up and prepared to snap the ball to holder Dustin Colquitt — only there was no one to snap the ball. Purdum hadn’t reported to the field. He said later that he’d missed the instructions because he was cleaning out his helmet.

Haley erupted, of course. Days later, Purdum was released, and former Chiefs snapper Thomas Gafford was re-signed.

Most effective message

When the talented Bowe was demoted from quarterback Matt Cassel’s No. 1 target to third-string drifter, it was seen as the latest — and most pointed — message that Haley was unhappy with the third-year wideout’s performance.

Haley is a former wide receivers coach, and he sees a bright future for Bowe — as long as he plays by Haley’s rules. Bowe spent parts of his first two seasons telling television cameras about his skills and then flexing on sidelines after spectacular catches, only to spoil some games with more spectacular miscues. Haley told Bowe to tone down the act. Then Haley had Bowe’s eyes checked and later had all the receivers’ cleats examined to learn whether poor route-running was related to malfunctioning equipment.

It wasn’t, so Haley went further, hitting Bowe where it hurt: his job security and the promise of playing time. The coach wouldn’t say he’d manipulated Bowe, only being coy to reporters when asked about it.

“You know me,” he said.

Either way, Bowe got the message and then put forth his most effective 10 days.

Biggest dose of reality

Cassel entered training camp with a new contract, his team’s faith, and grandiose — and perhaps unreasonable — expectations.

As training camp advanced, Cassel showed that he’ll require time and patience before he reaches the potential the Chiefs believe he possesses. During an intra-squad scrimmage, Cassel was intercepted on consecutive plays, the fifth-year quarterback making virtually the same poor throw. It did him no favors that backup quarterback Brodie Croyle had perhaps the best training-camp performance among the Chiefs’ four passers.

Haley wouldn’t defuse talk of Cassel’s mild struggles, saying he’d “hold off on answering” when asked which quarterback was performing best.

Cassel improved Friday night, but he’ll still likely carry unfair pressure during a season in which his offensive line and receivers could struggle.

Most-needed surprise

Considering the Chiefs’ past two seasons, they could stand some good luck. The youth-only approach that defined the 2008 season was at least dulled entering ’09. The Chiefs acquired several veterans, including linebacker Zach Thomas.

But Thomas missed all but four days of training camp because of an injury. A journeyman named Corey Mays filled in, at first thought to be temporarily, until Mays started looking like the most motivated player on Kansas City’s bulging roster.

The fourth-year linebacker wasn’t drafted out of Notre Dame, and his first two NFL teams gave up on him. The Chiefs might have been his last chance, but now he is on track to steal Thomas’ job.

Mays’ father, a Vietnam veteran who had both his legs amputated following complications of a wartime injury, taught his son to stay hungry and be his team’s hardest and most modest worker.

“In order for us to get to where we need to be,” Mays said earlier in camp, “someone has to provide an example.”

The NFL seems to have a few unlikely and previously hidden superstars break through each year. With the turmoil following the Chiefs the past two years, perhaps Kansas City’s reward will be uncovering this year’s James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley.

Best actor

As much as we’d like to believe that running back Johnson is a changed man with a new attitude and a nursed outlook, the past suggests that it’s better to wait before declaring LJ’s smile a permanent part of his manicured look.

Johnson said at the end of last season that he was unhappy in Kansas City, and he said it again during the offseason. It wasn’t going to work, he said. His marriage with the Chiefs, a long-term contract be damned, was doomed. That was months after he said in training camp that he was as motivated and happy as he’d been in a long time. This year, he said something similar.

“It’s a lot of things that are going to be a lot different this year,” Johnson said at the beginning of camp. “The way I run it, the way I go about a lot of things.”

For his part, Haley admitted that he’s waiting for more than LJ’s words. If history is an indication, that’s a wise decision.

Widest casting call

In an almost weekly occurrence, the Chiefs brought in new receivers to try to find a formula Haley was comfortable with.

Amani Toomer won a roster spot after beating out two others during a workout early in training camp, and later, Ashley Lelie also performed well enough to merit a contract.

The Chiefs now have a wide receiver corps that would have been perhaps the NFL’s best, if it were 2002 instead of 2009. Toomer, Lelie and Bobby Engram are established veterans, but they’ll have more auditions to pass if they are to win a role on this team.

Farthest to climb

Rookie defensive end Tyson Jackson missed a week of training camp while his contract was being finalized, and he admitted later that the lost time cost him.

The Chiefs and Jackson’s agent, Eugene Parker, negotiated deep into training camp, the sides trying to find an acceptable deal for a player who was projected to be drafted in the mid- to late-first round — but was taken No. 3 overall.

After Jackson’s first practice, the rookie worked into the evening with line coach Tim Krumrie. But even after two weeks of practice, Jackson said after the Chiefs’ preseason opener against Houston that he was no more than 40 percent comfortable with his technique and command of the playbook.

After Friday night’s loss at Minnesota, Jackson admitted he’s still behind.

“I’ve still got a long way to go,” he said. “I’m not at my best football shape right now.”

08-22-2009, 09:39 PM
Then Haley had Bowe’s eyes checked and later had all the receivers’ cleats examined to learn whether poor route-running was related to malfunctioning equipment.


08-22-2009, 09:41 PM
As long as Haley wins three games, he is over. Other than that....well, you know how anybody can do it....