KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The thermal food bag is there every day, never far from Branden Albert's locker. Inside it are his prepared meals — the low-calorie, smart foods that helped him lose nearly 40 pounds in less than six months before this season.
That much hasn't changed. What has changed in the months after the weight loss is the outlook for Albert, the Chiefs' left tackle, and the role his slimmer body — he is listed now at 316 pounds but has weighed as little as 305 this season — has played in what has been a disappointing second season. Nine sacks allowed in 11 games, a number so high that it is second in the NFL, behind only the 9 1/2 sacks allowed by Oakland's Mario Henderson.
"A humbling experience," Albert said of his 2009 season.
He entered this season having been showered in praise and all but assured of greatness. Albert was one of the Chiefs' most promising young players, a first-round pick in 2008, and it seemed only a matter of time before he was selected to a Pro Bowl. He lost the weight because coach Todd Haley wanted his linemen to be quicker, and Albert became the poster child for what was possible if players just followed the plan.
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"We need guys who are athletic," Haley said, "who can move the way we need them to move and execute what we need to get done.
"We want our guys to be in condition, and he's been a great shining example of that aspect of it. But there is an adjustment period there."
That period, which seems ongoing, has required Albert to pay more attention to details. His steps, hand placement and mental approach have been tested perhaps as never before. Albert had always been able to get by on being big and quick — and, the Chiefs believe, that was enough to overshadow the rough edges that have become visible since the weight loss.
Now that they're exposed, Albert has had to learn some things the hard way. Haley said he still believes in Albert's long-term potential, but the reality of undergoing such a shift has led to mistakes. In addition to the staggering number of sacks allowed, Albert also has been flagged for five illegal-procedure penalties and three holding calls. One of those procedure penalties negated a 15-yard gain Sunday against the Bills and forced the Chiefs to convert a fourth-down play.
Albert said the mistakes haven't come because his body has failed him but rather because he hasn't always passed the mental tests he now faces more regularly.
"The things that have gone wrong for me," Albert said, "they weren't physical. It's all mental."
"I can't worry about that," he said. "You want to be a great player; you don't want to just be another guy on the field. ... I can say it has been a learning experience. Everything is not perfect. I've just got to keep moving on."