From their relocated training camp, to their $375 million stadium makeover to the _ relatively _ relaxed and happy attitude of their head coach, it’s a new day for the Chiefs.
The most obvious training camp difference is the added presence of thousands of happy, upbeat men, women and kids. They ring the new practice fields in St. Joseph day after day, seemingly oblivious to the heat and humidity that drape them like a heavy woolen blanket.
Even though the North Woods are cooler and more comfortable than Missouri in August, not many Kansas Citians were willing to make the nine-hour drive to River Falls, Wis., where the Chiefs trained for the past 19 years.
But the Chiefs‘ shiny new St. Joseph digs are only about 75 minutes away. Excited, supportive fans cheer, applaud and shout encouragement. Their enthusiasm lends an almost carnival-like atmosphere to the otherwise sweaty, gritty, grind-it-out reality of NFL training camp.
Whether they’ll aid in improving a 4-12 record remains to be seen. But they’re as welcome as the free cups of water the Chiefs are making available.
“There’s no doubt it’s huge for the players, it’s huge for us,” coach Todd Haley said. “It’s easy to get up for the first day of training camp, the second day of training camp, but (not) when you start to hurt and you’re banged-up and you’re tired and you’re getting no sleep and you’re fighting with each other. When you come out of that locker room and there’s people out there hooting and hollering, it has a huge impact. It brings an energy to the practice field which is tremendous.
“It will have a tremendous impact.”
The players began borrowing energy from the fans on the very first day.
“We love it,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “We were just talking about that on the side during practice. We love the fan base out here. It gets us going. The receivers get a catch, it gets them going when the crowd is cheering. We were acting like it was an away game, trying to shut the crowd up with our pass breakups. It’s fun.”
Having fans on the field is almost enough to make up for the Missouri heat and humidity the Chiefs went to Wisconsin to escape.
“Any time you have the fans out here it provides a little extra spark,” linebacker Andy Studebaker said. “It’s hot, but they’re the reason we play the game. It’s fun to have them out here. They give us good energy.”
Two people the fans have been paying close attention to aren’t even in uniform. One can hardly get around. But new coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, old friends and former colleagues of Haley, seem certain to have a major impact.
Crennel, the former Cleveland Browns head coach, is in charge of a defense badly in need of improvement. Weis is running the offense in spite of recent knee surgery which causes him to wear a heavy brace on his left leg and walk with a cane.
But he still makes an enormous difference for Haley. Last year, while still learning on the fly about how to be a head coach, Haley fired his offensive coordinator 13 days before the season opener and assumed the role himself. He’d been offensive coordinator at his previous stop in Arizona, but the dual role was especially challenging for somebody who was also breaking in as a head coach.
“That’s why I’m excited about having a bunch of guys around me that I feel real good with and real good working with,” Haley said. “It allows me to pay attention to (other) things. It’s a full-time job, but it’s fun.”
It also helps that Haley, the other coaches and the players have all had a year to get to know one another.
“Now we all know what to expect from him and what he expects from us,” guard Brian Waters said.
All around, there seems to be a feeling of familiarity that was missing last year in Wisconsin.
“What I feel good about is we’ve got a full year under our belt,” Haley said. “This is our second time around. We’re in a new place (in St. Joseph), and there’s some adjustment and learning any time you have a new situation.
“But the big thing is the players have a much better understanding of what I’m about. At this time last year they didn’t know much about me. And maybe more importantly, us as a coaching staff have such a better grasp of the players we have.”
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