Monday, April 19, 2010

Mike Vrabel "embodies strong, fast and disciplined"

"Character and Teamwork: The Two 'Eyes' in Pioli"

By Mikedkc

April 17, 2010

With the NFL draft just days away, the speculation of the Chiefs number five, over-all selection is heating up. And with eight picks in the first five rounds, Kansas City has a chance to make a significant talent upgrade.

But will it convert to regular season victories?

Last December as the Chiefs were preparing for the Denver Broncos, most of us expected to be on the receiving end of another Denver butt-kicking. Sitting at a disappointing 3-12, Todd Haley saw progress. "I think there’s been progress in all areas. But the next step for us as a team … is we’ve got to start playing complete games in all three phases. We’ll win because we’re going to continue to work on being a smart team and one that makes good decisions."

As fans, we had every right to be skeptical.

The following week, the Chiefs manhandled the Broncos in a 44-24 victory. And in the process, opened our collective minds to the possibility Scott Pioli, Todd Haley and "The Right 53" might be building a culture of winning.

We’ve had a full regular season and an encouraging off-season to assess what Pioli originally referred to as "The Patriot Way" and the "Right 53". I submit to you those terms are simply another way to define the essence of "Teamwork".

And that isn’t all bad.

At the risk of sounding like a motivational seminar, let’s look at the fundamentals of teamwork and slap a big ol’ Chiefs logo on it.

Teamwork starts with leadership. A leader communicates objectives clearly. Scott Pioli established the mantra from day one: "We want big, strong, fast, disciplined football players."

Teamwork means trust in your teammates. Having declared his expectations, Haley set about getting the right 53 to buy in. Showing up in shape for mini-camps and OTAs speaks volumes about a player's commitment, which positively impacts team performance. Even crafty veterans weren’t spared from Haley’s discipline. Training camp singled out the unprepared and undisciplined. They lost weight, got in shape and stayed that way. No exceptions. Even all-pro, Brian Waters slugged through Haley's extra curricular training sessions.

Teamwork means trust in the system. Haley was so committed to the system he fired offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey a month before the regular season opener and installed his own offense. On the surface, it looked like the actions of a mad man. In hindsight, it was an expeditious leap that laid the foundation for the offense of the future and the hiring of a brilliant coordinator to run it in Charlie Weis.

Now let's take a look at the Chiefs' recent individual application of these principles.

Bernard Pollard. We might never know the specifics, but it's certain, Haley wasn't alone in the Chiefs decision to cut him. Is it possible he was the sacrificial lamb to make a point? Based on his talent, it's more likely Pollard simply viewed himself as bigger than the team, rendering him an unacceptable locker room influence who undermined the system and became unfit as a trusted teammate.

Jamaal Charles. Distasteful as it was, Larry Johnson was going to start until Jamal Charles proved he could be trusted to carry the ball without fumbling. Injuries to Kolby Smilth and Johnson's disrespectful twitter posts paved the way for Charles' MVP season. With Thomas Jones competing for carries, Charles has to hold on to the ball--in practice as well as in games.

Derrick Johnson. Whether he lacked the ability to shed blockers, took plays off or lacked the discipline to maintain his assignment in practice, his freelancing got him benched. Meanwhile, less talented linebackers started and got the reps. They could be trusted to do the right thing. After the Denver game, Haley no doubt recognized Johnson's ability to drop back in coverage and spy and contain. This year, he will likely be situationally assigned to those things but might not start until he proves he can be trusted by his teammates on every down. Hopefully, Romeo Crennel coaches DJ up to the player we all expect him to be.

Mike Vrabel. At age 34 with 57 career sacks, Vrabel is on my all-bar-fight first team. Along with his toughness, Vrabel's fitness regimen has extended his career and made him a trusted player on three Super Bowl championship teams. He is, admittedly near the end of his career. But Vrabel embodies strong, fast and disciplined. Derrick Johnson, take note.

Rudy Niswanger. Yes, he snapped the ball over Cassel's head twice against the Chargers. The pocket frequently collapsed at the center point of attack. But to his credit, he's tough. Niswanger played through "a significant" knee injury in 2009, which speaks volumes to his character. His high intellect and dependability make a solid case for keeping him as a reliable center/guard backup and valued teammate.

Casey Wiegmann. Brought in to provide leadership and a model work ethic. Wiegmann demonstrates the definition of teamwork with his weekly preparation.

Ryan Lilja. His interview last week spoke volumes about his character and leadership qualities. Look for an improved right side on the Chiefs offensive line and expect way more from this 2010 edition of the offense.

With these recent examples of the Chiefs personnel management, we'll see not only a vast improvement in the overall talent level of the team, but a significant jump in the number of victories.

I have a personal preference for the number five pick. But with Scott Pioli's vision of character and teamwork, I trust him to do the right thing on draft day.

He stated it clearly in yesterday's press conference: "I don’t know what my reputation is, but this is what I do. It is my job to evaluate players, not only on the field, but who they are, which is an important part. I believe that player personnel is not only the evaluation of the skill-set and playing ability, but is the makeup of the player and who the player is as well as trying to determine his fit. I am sure you are all tired of me talking about the right 53 but it is a core belief of mine and it was a core belief of some of the teams I have seen win championships at every level, whether it is pro football, college football or high school football."

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