BALTIMORE — Training camp at Missouri Western State University this week looked, sounded, and to the players felt, more like training camp as the Chiefs inch closer to the start of the regular season.
Perhaps that means they will let starting quarterback Matt Cassel throw some passes tonight as their exhibition schedule continues with a 6:30 game against the Ravens in Baltimore.
"I hope so," Cassel said. "That's the plan."
The unhurried pace of the first two weeks of camp left the Chiefs unprepared for last week's preseason opener against Tampa Bay. The result, a 25-0 Buccaneers victory, was predictable.
The Chiefs took extraordinary care that night to not put Cassel in harm's way. He took eight snaps, handing off on seven with a botched center exchange accounting for the other.
At some point, probably tonight, the Chiefs have to take the wraps off. While every player on their roster was effected one way or another by the lockout, none was impacted like Cassel.
He's 29 now and in his fourth year as an NFL starter, which in many cases could qualify him as a seen-it-all, done-it-all quarterback. But Cassel played little in college, so every snap he gets is still a learning experience. He didn't get any during the off-season, where practice was scrapped due to the lockout.
He was on his own, not the ideal situation for a quarterback trying to establish himself as one of the NFL's elite. He organized some informal throwing sessions with some of the Chiefs' receivers but acknowledged that wasn't as beneficial as practice with the coaches present.
As a result, the Chiefs are behind where the usually would be at this point of their preseason.
"You get a little unsettled when you get into camp and you're trying to set that foundation," Cassel said. "You're like, 'OK, I want more and more and more.' But the fact of the matter is you can't rush that. You have to set that foundation early and once you have that, you can grow from there."
Cassel had his ups and downs at camp. He's looked better throwing to familiar receivers like Dwayne Bowe than newcomers like Steve Breaston.
"On offense, it does take a little bit longer to achieve all those kinds of goals because the timing is so critical," said Jim Zorn, who is in his first season coaching the Chiefs quarterbacks. "If you heard the word scrambling, that's really what a lot of quarterbacks and receivers are doing right now, scrambling to get together in the communication and the timing of things.
"There's a sense of urgency to get everything down pat. It does take time. We'll get better and better as we go. We're trying to get everyone up to speed as quickly as we can.
"(Cassel is) not going through the motions and being frustrated that we started so late. There's no whining going on."
Off-season practice is usually a time for the Chiefs not only to unveil their playbook but experiment with new wrinkles that may or may not find an eventual home in any game plan.
The entire process was compacted into camp this year, putting a burden on all the quarterbacks, but particularly the starter.
"You're trying different stuff," Cassel said. "We didn't have those (off-season practices) and mini-camps to kind of experiment, so we're experimenting with different personnel groups, different formations. We're learning a lot about our team and who we are. I think we're moving in the right direction.
"From one day to the next it's different. One day you can be completely on and feel great about how the day went and there's other days when you're trying new stuff or you're not as sharp as you'd like to be."
Counting the short tenure of Chan Gailey, Cassel is now working with his fourth offensive coordinator, Bill Muir, and fourth position coach in Zorn. But coach Todd Haley has been the constant, so much remains the same.
That continuity may have to carry Cassel, at least early in the season.
"The good thing is that he's been... in this system now going on three years," Haley said. "He's been with the core of the players that are around him for one, two and three years, or going on that.
"I think that Matt's done nothing since he got here but improve, but last year he did so many things that helped us have some success. Now, this year he's passionate about trying to improve. We as coaches are going to do everything we can to try to make that happen and help that happen."