Insider Blog: Defining a Sophomore

Posted Jun 8, 2010

Cut it whatever way you'd like, but improvement for KC rests in the hands of the various types of 'Sophomores'

Year two is a critical time for NFL players. Gone are the acclimation periods, rookie walls and unfamiliar territory of a new city, new teammates and new playbook. The game comes more naturally, creating an environment of less thinking and increased reacting. Natural athleticism is able to flow more freely.

Yes, the Chiefs are expecting considerable improvements out of their “true” sophomore players. Tyson Jackson, Jovan Belcher, Donald Washington, Alex Magee and Ryan Succop are all players who fit that category.

But there is another type of sophomore that the Chiefs need to progress in year two, in order to be successful over the long-haul. These are the veteran players who may have more experience than a true second-year player, but who were thrown into the fire upon arrival a year ago.

These are the 2009 mid-season pickups.

“We’ve seen a bunch of guys that we picked up along the way last year, the T Ryan O’Callaghans, the WR Chris Chambers and the WR Lance Longs and some of those guys that have really started to take some steps because that group of guys gets lost sometimes in that they didn’t have last year’s off-season with us,” head coach Todd Haley said. “So it’s really their first off-season going full-bore with us and I think we’re seeing some progress in a bunch of those guys, which has me encouraged.”

O’Callaghan looks to be the front-runner to secure the Chiefs starting right tackle position, while Chris Chambers looks to be a major factor in the receiving game. Add mid-season pickup Leonard Pope to the list as well. Even Ikechuku Ndukwe got a late start in the game after heading over to Kansas City in a trade on August 24th of last year.

There’s more. Long, Travis Daniels, Reshard Langford, David Herron, Mike Richardson, Matt Gutierrez and Tim Castille all represent mid-season pickups too. Some of those players may also perform key, specific roles for the club, come this fall.

Haley’s also reeled in his stance regarding the injured from last season, signaling foresight that he could perhaps see some of these players as part of the club’s future. Just last week he had positive things to say about second-year WR Quinten Lawrence, despite Lawrence’s absence from on-field work as he rehabs a shoulder injury suffered last season.

The Chiefs head coach was back at it again yesterday, speaking patiently regarding the rehabilitation process of Lance Long. Like Lawrence, Long is another player who has yet to see the field for OTA work. Long has spent the majority of practice sessions conditioning either on the hill that Priest Holmes made famous or by conditioning with accelerating and decelerating speeds as he jogs around the complex.

Off the field a year ago? The ending was already being written and it was an uphill climb to return to the promise land. Ironically, Long and Lawrence will be battling for a similar roster position come August– a possible slot/reserve role with the ability to return kicks if called upon.

“The most important thing of the off-season to me is the getting stronger, getting in condition aspect of it because again, we’re going to have a whole training camp to work on everything,” Haley said. “This time of the year that is what’s most important to me is (Long has) been able to do everything with the guys in that area and again, that will be an advantage for him because without that, all these guys who came in mid-way, I don’t know what they were doing necessarily. Now, at least we know what they’re doing and we’re seeing them all make strides physically, which is very important.”

There is definitely more trust this season between Haley and his players when it comes to the conditioning of his players. Some of the current players that Haley is pleased with this year are the same players that he was disappointed in a year ago. It’s the clear communication of expectations that has seemed to make the difference.

Then, of course, there is the “sophomore” that everyone has their eye on. There won’t be any flying under the radar for this player. This “sophomore” represents a group of players who must progress to the fullest extent. He represents a veteran starter who has been part of the Chiefs new system for over a year. He also happens to play the most important position on a football team.

Obviously, we’re talking about Matt Cassel.

There seems to be a cautious optimism circling around Cassel’s 2010 prospects. A second season at the helm and the addition of quarterback-developing offensive coordinator and position coach, as well as more play-making talent surrounding him on the offensive side of the football are the general sources of that optimism.

Nothing is at the beginning level for these different types of “sophomore” players. In fact, every holdover from 2009 could be considered a “sophomore” in one way or another, including Haley himself. Most of this team has graduated from the basics and if they have to keep learning the beginning steps for becoming a Kansas City Chief, then they’ll be left behind.

We’ve said it throughout the off-season and it still holds true. Off-season additions are great, but to take the next step, Kansas City will need to see marked improvement by their in-house talent from year-one to year-two under Haley.

No matter what type of “sophomore” they are, progression is critical.

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