KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He had been around the NFL for 25 years, first as a quarterback and then as a coach, so Jim Zorn had no trouble seeing the Chiefs were in for a rough start last season.
“We kept things simple early,” Zorn, the Chiefs’ quarterback coach, said of their training camp preparation. “We didn’t get into a pile of stuff early. So you could tell things might be tough for us for awhile.”
Turns out Zorn was right. But it didn’t take someone of Zorn’s football experience to see that coming. The Chiefs spent their training camp and preseason working more on conditioning than football, so their 0-3 start — they were outscored by 82 points in the process — was predictable.
The Chiefs report to another training camp Thursday at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. Practice begins Friday and, with memories of last year fresh in their minds, everything they do will be aimed at getting them better prepared when the regular season starts on Sept. 9 against Atlanta at Arrowhead Stadium.
“We have to do a good job in training camp of preparing for the season so when the regular season games start, we’ll be football-ready,” coach Romeo Crennel said.
Last year was an odd one for all NFL teams because of the lockout. Teams had no offseason practice and, when the lockout abruptly ended, the start of training camp was staggered. Some players were allowed to practice the first day of camp and other were forced to wait for several days.
“You knew you didn’t have an offseason and you knew the young guys coming in didn’t know anything and they would have to learn the system in 15 days before they played the first preseason game,” Crennel said. “Then it was disjointed the way the players were able to report to camp. One group reported first and then another group reported a week later. It was hard to pull the team together in a short time with all those things going on.”
Many other teams, under the same circumstances, were able to find a way to make them work.
This spring, the Chiefs had a full schedule of 13 practices. They went a long way toward installing the offensive imported by new coordinator Brian Daboll and their free-agent additions and rookies were able to settle in.
“This year, we’ve put a pile of stuff on our guys already,” Zorn said. “So when we get to training camp, we’ll have a real good group of plays, a good foundation that we had none of going into last year’s training camp. That’s going to help us early in the season. I can’t predict how we’re going to do. I just know we’ll be better prepared.”
That alone would be an improvement on last season. The Chiefs committed nine turnovers in those first two games, lopsided losses to Buffalo and Detroit.
“I’m encouraged with the guys,” Daboll said shortly before off-season practice concluded. “We’ve thrown a lot at them. But at the same time, these guys are doing a good job of really going home, studying the information and coming out here.
“You get one rep on a play and then you have to wait a couple of days until we get to that situation again. You just keep working at it every day. You keep piling stuff on them and sometimes that stuff falls off the wall but the next time you go back and throw it up, it usually sticks.”
The Chiefs lost tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles, important players all, to injuries within the first two weeks of last season. That certainly didn’t help the matter, but the truth is the Chiefs were headed for trouble before the rash of injuries struck.
Still, it’s no coincidence three significant free agents signed by the Chiefs over the offseason were a tight end (Boss), a safety (Abram Elam) and a running back (Peyton Hillis). Boss and Hillis will play a lot anyway, but the Chiefs feel better protected against injury at those positions and others.
“You’re not going to replace a certain level of player,” general manager Scott Pioli said. “But I feel a lot better with the depth we have now. The roster is not complete but it’s more complete.”