KANSAS CITY, Mo. —When the 2009 season mercifully ended, Branden Albert was like everyone else and unsure whether he would be the Chiefs left tackle when they gathered again.
Albert was still trying to establish himself as a quality player at his position, a premium one because it protects the backside of quarterback Matt Cassel and battles each week against the NFL's best pass rushers.
Albert decided shortly after season's end that he would prepare as if he would have to battle to keep his job. That decision might have persuaded the Chiefs not to draft a left tackle.
In any case, it was an extremely quiet preseason for Albert until Friday night's game against Philadelphia. Albert was penalized once for holding and another time for a false start.
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Still, the Chiefs are encouraged by what they've seen from Albert. He ties that to his off-season decision.
"I really wasn't thinking about what else would happen," Albert said. "My thing was not to make the same mistake I did last off-season by getting out of shape. That's what I was worried about. If I had done what I did last year, it would have been a big step back.
"I didn't worry about what else was going on. I wanted to control what I could control and that was to come into the off-season in the best shape possible."
In last year's new world of coach Todd Haley, smaller was deemed to be better for a lot of Chiefs players and Albert was one of them. He had trouble getting to his prescribed weight of 316 pounds and then had trouble dealing with his new, slimmed down body.
The result was a difficult season. Albert was among the league leaders in sacks allowed, sparking thoughts that the Chiefs, with the fifth pick in the draft, would look for a new left tackle and then move Albert to right tackle or guard, where he played in college at Virginia.
Two things stopped the Chiefs aside from the fact they fell in love with Tennessee safety Eric Berry. Albert improved toward the end of last season and attacked the off-season with a vengeance.
"I've felt that about Branden going back to last year, from the conditioning aspect to buying in to the thought process to believing what he was told, that he could be a better player if he was in better condition and at a certain weight," Haley said.
"He went through an adjustment period of dealing with his new body. He stayed in shape when the season ended. He came into this off-season with a baseline of where he needed to be and then he built on it. He's gotten stronger, he's gotten quicker, he's got better stamina."
Veteran left guard Brian Waters last year was Albert's biggest, and seemingly sometimes only, fan. He vigorously defended Albert, saying that given time, Albert could become a franchise left tackle who capably protected Cassel or any other Chiefs quarterback for years.
He hoped the Chiefs wouldn't draft a left tackle.
"I didn't think it was necessary, to be honest with you," Waters said. "He has the ability to be as good there is in this game. We had a lot of other pressing needs that were definitely more important than that one.
"I know how hard he works. He wants to be great. That's one thing about him. His work ethic and his concentration in the classroom and on the field match what he wants out of life as far as being a football player. A lot of guys say they want it but they don't want to put in the work and handle all the details. He's one of those guys who if you give him something he did wrong, he's going to work all week to fix that.
"He's not one of those guys who thinks he has all the answers, which a lot of times those high draft picks... these days you don't even need to be a high draft pick. He listens, takes everything in."
The Chiefs were hopeful about Albert's progress when camp started but unsure. So far, he's been what they hoped.
"He's got this (Tamba Hali) lining up across from him every single day," Haley said. "When Tamba brings it like he's bringing it in a game... he isn't calling off the dogs very often. I see a good battle between Branden and Tamba on a consistent basis. That's what's going to make both of them better. Branden is benefiting from that work every day.
"He's got good competition and that makes the game a little easier for him. He's just got to keep it going."
The Chiefs gave Albert a vote of confidence when they opted to pass on the chance to draft a left tackle, but Albert isn't necessarily looking at it that way.
"I won't say that," Albert said. "I'll just say that what I've done in the off-season showed people what I needed to show them.
"I'm not going to say I'm a better player. Let me go through the season first. I've started off on a good foot by staying in shape in the off-season and doing what I had to do. From January to March, I think I did a good job. We'll see how everything plays out during the season."