Big Matt doesn’t live here anymore

You can find me at arrowheadaddict.

Or back here once I’m inevitably fired.

Come along, children. We have a new home now.

Well gang, your boy Big Hatt is moving up in the world.  The blogging world, that is.  Not the real world.  Still near the bottom of the totem pole there.  But who cares about that, right?  (Vitale voice) This is the internet, baby!  It’s awesome!

Arrowhead Addict has decided to import Big Matt.  I will now be chiefschattin’ on a much bigger stage.  I was all set to write an emotional farewell, but that doesn’t seem necessary.  My hope is that you guys will come over there with me.  To read, learn, discuss, analyze, rant, laugh, cry, complain, scream, threaten and, hopefully eventually, celebrate.  I’ve really enjoyed our Chiefs discussions these past few years.  More than that, I’ve needed them.  It’s hard being away from something that has always been a part of your life.  Some people can let their teams go and move on.  I can’t, and I don’t want to.  This blog has been my Chiefs lifeline.

But really, nothing needs to change.  It’s a new address, that’s all.  Like switching to a nicer apartment.  Once you learn how to get there, I promise you’ll like it better.  The sink drains, the floors are clean, and you’ll finally be able to crash on my couch without waking up with bug bites.

There are two characteristics of BMCC commenters that make me extremely proud.  You are:

1) Funny- And I don’t just mean that in a “good sense of humor” way. I’m talking about the ability to actually make me laugh.  I’m a tough judge in this department, but some of the stuff you guys say on here is really hilarious.  Funnier than any comments I read anywhere else.

2) Reasonably unbiased: Chiefs Nation is the biggest bunch of homers around.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it shows passion.  But it gets a little old reading a hundred different comments stating various ways this losing team is awesome.  Too often, blog comments read like regurgitations of whatever the team asserts.  That is not the case here.  You guys love your Chiefs, but you love truth better.

Chiefs Nation could use a dose of both of these characteristics.  AA is a chance for us to have a positive influence on the blogosphere.  It’s a good place for us.  A little more edge than Arrowheadpride.  Patrick Allen, the lead blogger, gets any pertinent news up quick.  This guy Merlin posts every week or so and is a pretty good read.  Not afraid to question the men upstairs.  Adam Best, the former lead blogger, will be good for a laugh when he stops by.  I used to read him back in the day.  I liked reading Andrew Crocker although I’m not sure he’s there anymore.  The point is, it’s a good site.  We’re gonna have some fun over there.

Of course, there will be a few slight adjustments.  I obviously can’t make with the inside jokes or use quite as many nicknames.  My hope is that I can slowly introduce some of our best stuff over time.  I’m still gonna clown (I gots ta clown), but there will be a little more polish and a little less cursing.  AA is already a thriving community, and we should respect that.  I don’t anticipate any problems there.  It’ll be fun for me to watch you guys interact with so many other people.

I know who most of you are.  If the season starts and I notice any of you haven’t made the transition, you’ll start receiving phone calls.  I don’t think any of us want that.  Well, you don’t.

My first post drops monday afternoon.  Be there or be square.

Jarrad Page moves forward with master plan to ruin life

For those not following the red-hot, ESPN bottom line material Jarrad Page holdout, allow me to catch you up: he still hasn’t signed his tender.  It doesn’t appear that he’s going to.  Unbelievably, Page still seems to think he has enough leverage to demand a trade.  He and his agent, who also happens to be his brother, are obviously in way over their heads here.  This is a bad decision that keeps getting worse.  Jarrad Page is destroying his career. 

How did this happen?  How did someone who used to represent a bright spot become expendable?  Well, first of all, Page was probably never that good to begin with.  We’ve all liked him to varying degrees since he was drafted, and he has definitely seemed like a success story.  I mean, its cool when a seventh round pick grabs a starting job as a rookie.  But what has he really done other than make a few timely picks against the Raiders?  Granted, those were cool moments.  Cool enough to justify this bizarre holdout?  Uh, no.  Page’s main claim to fame at this point is being a favorite of one of the most inept coaching staffs of all time.  If I’d gotten my degree from a school that was promptly discredited, I don’t know if I’d be displaying it proudly on my resume. 

My point is Page seems to think he’s accomplished a lot more than he has.  He obviously thinks pretty highly of himself.  Unfortunately for him the Chiefs front office, coaching staff and even fan base don’t seem to share his views.  I was cool with him as a starter, but I’m just as cool with an open tryout between Kendrick Lewis, Leggett, McGraw and Don Wash.  One of those guys could very well end up being better than Page.  And they’re all hungry, at least in theory.  Meanwhile Page is turning his nose up at almost $2 mil.  Who does he think he is?

This isn’t Bernard Pollard all over again.  I cried foul as loud as anyone when the Chiefs cut him, but this isn’t the same situation.  Pollard was an ascending player with clear strengths who was healthy and in camp.  Page is a plateaued player with unclear strengths coming off a season-ending injury.  And, maybe worst of all, he obviously isn’t intelligent or humble.  Four years ago he was picked in the last round of the draft and now he’s decided $1.7 million and the inside track on a starting job isn’t good enough.  It’s hard to pity a guy like that.  It’s also hard to understand why he thinks someone will trade for him when there was no market for Pollard.  I mean Jesus Christ Page, get a clue.  Learn things.  Or at least hire people who can learn things.  People who aren’t related to you.

Pollard became a sensation in Houston and made the Chiefs brass look like fools.  That won’t happen here.  I don’t even think a starting job is a foregone conclusion for Page.  Maybe Gunther Cunningham will make a play for him, that fucking idiot.  You know snagging Turk McBride only whetted his appetite for former Chiefs.  Word is he’s hired a private eye to locate Jason Babin.  Page would be a coup for that bunch of clowns.  It’d be like when Pioli nabbed Ryan O’Callaghan.  “There’s a mediocre player from my former team out there?  To the buildmobile!”

I don’t care what the Chiefs do with Page.  If they want to cut him, fine.  I seriously doubt we’ll regret it.  I suppose the optimal solution is a trade, but I really don’t think there’s a market for Page.  Maybe we can squeeze a late-round pick out of somebody.  Either way, Page is done in KC.  It’s a shame, because it didn’t have to be this way.  He could’ve taken his $1.7 mil, fought for his starting job and hit free agency with a chance at a big contract.  Now he’s a holdout coming off a season spent on the IR.  His future is officially in jeopardy.  An ignominious end to a once-promising career with the Chiefs. 

The silver lining is this free safety battle we get to watch unfold.  I am straight-up excited about it.  We’re going to get a look at some decent prospects now.  Who do you guys like?  Lewis?  One of the corner converts?  McGraw?  I’m a Leggett man myself, but I know Don Wash has a BMCC following.  

Sayonara, Jarrad Page.  You’re like the KC Chiefs version of the show Deadwood.  You were almost kinda good for a few years, but your ending just didn’t make any sense, and when you’re gone you won’t be missed. 

Ol’ Deadwood Jerry Page, they used to call him.

Pope Lenny I

In an unfortunately titled April post, I discussed the Chiefs tight end situation, and made a recommendation as to what I thought the appropriate course of action was:

“I’d like to see Cottam and Pope on the team.  Drafting a tight end in round two or three, putting him in the mix and hoping he takes the starting job seems like a good plan to me.”

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here.  The only reason I got this right is because it was such an obvious move.  If the Chiefs listened to all my ideas Mike Mazlowski would probably still be our starting middle linebacker.  It’s nice to be on the same page this time though.  We obviously needed an upgrade, but it was just as obvious that a premier upgrade was not within our grasp.  A day 2 pick was clearly the way to go.  And while I don’t think we necessarily had to trade up to get him, Tony Moeaki is a decent prospect with some upside.  For this team at this time, I’ll gladly take that.

Not even the greatest personnel man in the history of football can bring in pro bowlers at every position.  Even good teams have some spots that are weaker than others.  The key to a successful roster, in my mind, is filling your weaknesses with players that could potentially become strengths.  I’m not talking about top draft picks or marquee free agents.  I’m talking, essentially, about players like Tony Moeaki and Brad Cottam. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not predicting breakout seasons from either of these guys.  I’ve never seen Moeaki play and I’ve been scoffing at Cottam fans since the second he was drafted.  Both are injury prone, and they’ve shown it so far this offseason.  I don’t expect either to be the next Tony Gonzalez.  A more likely scenario is the next Keith Cash.  The point is, we don’t know.  It’s possible Moeaki is a playmaker, or Cottam is fully healed and ready to show that 4-catch, 62 yard game was no mirage.  Not likely, but possible. 

I happen to like Lenny Pope.  as I’ve said before, that play where he signalled first down ten yards short was one of my favorite moments from last season.  And not just because I was laughing at him, either.  This is going to sound stupid, but I liked that he was fired up, even if it did betray a total lack of game-awareness.  There were a few other times it looked like Pope was fired up, too.  I think he gives his all.  I respect that.  In short, I respect Lenny Pope. 

The problem is, we already know what Pope is capable of.  He’s a backup caliber tight end.  If we start him, we can be pretty sure we’ll be getting a below average performance from the tight end position.  He might not embarrass himself, but he’s likely to be worse than whoever is starting on the other end.  Moeaki and Cottam might be too.  But then again, they might not be.  There is a chance, however small, that one of these guys breaks out.  For a team like the Chiefs trying to rise from the depths without breaking the bank, that is a chance worth taking.  At the very least we should go into next season with a much better idea of what we have.  That might sound simple, but we definitely don’t know any more about Cottam now than we did at this time last year.  Rather than take a chance on youth Todd Haley decided Sean Ryan was part of the right 53.  He eventually learned his lesson and benched Ryan, but valuable reps at the tight end position were lost.  That can’t happen again.

The story this offseason is that Todd Haley is much more calm and confident.  People like to talk about how much he’s learned.  That’s fine, but I’ve heard the same thing many, many times about many people who plainly hadn’t learned anything.  Trey Hillman, Mike Solari, Allard Baird, Herm Edwards, Dayton Moore, Ryan Sims, Kris Wilson, Yuni Betancourt, Brodie Croyle, John Buck, Tank Tyler, the list could go on forever.  There’s been a lot of learning going on in KC these last ten years.  Our teams have been first-rate sports universities.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t led to a lot of winning.

Just being at a job longer doesn’t necessarily make you better at it.  Learning from mistakes requires actual correction of those mistakes in the future.  If Todd Haley trots Lenny Pope out there as a starter in week one, we’ll know he didn’t learn the lesson Sean Ryan had to teach.  Pope is this year’s Ryan.  Is he better than Ryan was?  Probably.  But seeing as how he still isn’t good, that doesn’t really matter.  Pope isn’t the answer.  We need to find out who is.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Seriously, even if Brad Cottam was the worst tight end in NFL history, would we have lost more games last year with him starting over Ryan?  No way.  We could only have gained.  Certainly in knowledge, and possibly in production, too. 

Like I said, I want Pope on this team.  But if I start reading stories during training camp about how hard he’s working, I’m going to be concerned.  And if the phrase, “right 53″ starts getting thrown around, I’m going to be very disappointed in Todd Haley.

“Nap Harris is going to play better.” -Herm Edwards

There are several interesting position battles to keep an eye on as training camp gets closer.  None are particularly flashy, but it’s always fun to speculate as to what the opening day starting lineup might look like.  Will Casey Weigmann finally put Rudy Niswanger out of his misery?  Which injury-prone third round pick will be starting at tight end?  Who will win the free safety job?  Is Ron Edwards really still our starting nose tackle? 

All of these questions loom large in my football-starved summer brain.  Still, as much as I like spending my alone time researching Tony Moeaki’s injury history, there is one position battle that has my attention above all others.  Not because of the on-field importance, but because of what it tells us about our coaching staff.  What I want to know is, who is going to start at inside linebacker?

This is not a new question.  Most of us have spent the last year lamenting the subjugation of Derrick Johnson.  Work ethic, attitude, and other “Patriot Way” intangibles aside, our defense needs talent, and Johnson has it.  He needs to be on the field.  We all know it.  After DJ’s monster game against Denver, I thought Todd Haley knew it too.  Yet here we are again, six months later, and DJ is still being shuttled back and forth between the first and second team.  Haley still seems unwilling to commit to Johnson as a full-time starter.  There are a few different way to interpret that.  None of them are promising.

This isn’t just about Johnson.  Our linebacking corps as a whole was shabby and uninspiring last year.  For all the talk of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson eating up blockers to free up the linebackers, only Tamba Hali had more than two sacks.  Simply put, our linebackers didn’t make plays.  Yet somehow, astonishingly, free agency and the draft passed without any upgrades being made.  We’re being told that improvement from the front seven will have to come from in-house.  I’ve heard that too many times before in my years as a Chiefs fan, and it’s never a good sign.  Essentially, the plan is to get better by staying the same. 

On the line, it could work.  At least in theory.  We still don’t have a quality nose tackle, but our ends are young.  I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and assume there will be some mild improvement because of that.  It’s hard to assume the same about the linebackers.  The Chiefs are planting stories in the Star about how much better Tamba Hali is going to be this year.  Again, I’ve heard that before.  Specifically, before the 2008 season.  Hali was coming off a solid year, and I was happy with where he was at.  The Lie Guys, however, assured us the best was yet to come.  Gunther scoffed at a question about whether Hali could have a 10-sack year.  Like they were disrespecting him by not saying more.  Enormous pressure was being put on Tamba, and he responded with a 3-sack season.  Our pass-rush that year was the worst in league history. 

Obviously, things have improved since then.  Our pass rush is still bad, but Hali has regained his old 7-9 sack form.  He’s fun to watch, and he’s a good player.  I like him.  I think we all do.  But the best solution to a weak pass rush isn’t to count on better production from the one player who was actually good to begin with.  The other three starting linebackers combined for two sacks.  Shouldn’t we be looking to increase production at those spots? 

The Chiefs have been shuffling players in and out of the first team at minicamp, and it is by no means clear how the playing time will be distributed.  But I cringe when I read that Mays, Williams and Vrabel are running with the first team.  That seems an awful lot like settling for what we had last year.  We need better.  None of those guys are ascending players.  If we’re to assume progression from Jackson and Dorsey, it seems fair to assume regression from Vrabel.  Mays is a special teams player.  I still like Speedwagon, but we saw him for a full season and he didn’t make many plays.  These guys just don’t have much upside.  We cannot count on better play from them.  It is folly.

I don’t know what the answer is, but it starts with getting Derrick Johnson in the starting lineup.  And I’d sure like to see Studebaker take Vrabel’s outside linebacker spot.  Maybe Vrabel can move to the inside.  We could probably squeeze a few more sacks out of the group that way.  He hasn’t ever played inside to my knowledge, but with a group like this talent should trump positional fit.  The Chiefs need to find the four best linebackers and start them, regardless of who they are or what position they’re supposed to play.  Hali and DJ are obviously the cream of the crop.  Training camp should be used as an open tryout for the other two positions.  Vrabel?  Studebaker?  Belcher?  Speedwagon?  Some no-namer?  Fine.  Just find the best two, and get them on the field. 

I’m not asking for a miracle from this group.  I am asking Todd Haley to be flexible.  Trotting the same starters out there for another year would show a troubling lack of creativity.  Haley is singing the same old song about guys getting more comfortable in the system and being healthier, but I refuse to believe three players with an average age of 30 are suddenly going to take it up a notch.  That group had a chance, and it didn’t work. 

This is one case where the Chiefs definitely need to put more emphasis on tangibles and less on intangibles.  Intangibles don’t put quarterbacks on their asses.  And I really, really want to see Tim Tebow get laid out.

Time for Matt Cassel to get his Trent Green on

Since the draft, we’ve talked mainly about the defense.  That always seems to be the case this time of year.  A natural consequence, I suppose, of spending a top five pick on that side of the ball every year.  Tyson Jackson isn’t the type of player I should be wondering about on June evenings as I walk my dog, but he was picked third, so here we are.  It’s impossible to separate players from expectations.  It’s equally impossible to separate a Chiefs fan from his glorification of the 90s.  We grew up on good defense, and we miss it.  We’ve been waiting ten years for that unit to show some signs of life, and it may start soon.  So yes, the defense, in particular the recent draft picks, are always on our minds.  But if the Chiefs contend for the division, it won’t be because of breakout seasons from Eric Berry or Glenn Dorsey. It will be because the offense scored a bunch of points.

I’m as excited for Eric Berry as anyone, but I’m also realistic about his probable impact.  He’s a rookie safety playing behind a bad front seven.  He’ll be an improvement, and he’ll be fun to watch, but this defense will still likely struggle to stop the run and rush the passer.  This isn’t a 90s resurgence, at least not yet.  Our only chance at success is to turn back the clock to a more recent epoch.  The 2010 Chiefs can’t play Martyball.  They can maybe pull off Vermeilball. 

That’s not to say Vermeilball is ideal, or that it should be the ultimate goal.  I’m talking about our chances this year.  The defense remains very much a work in progress.  The Chiefs seems content to improve the unit slowly, through the draft.  Long term, it could work.  Short term, we have the same defense as last year plus a few rookies.  Drastic improvement shouldn’t be expected.  A baby step is likely, but that won’t win many games. 

The offense, on the other hand, could take a significant step forward.  This unit was improved mainly through free agency, and free agency is designed to pay dividends in the here-and-now, rather than in the future.  Thom Jones, Ryan Lilja, Casey Weigmann and Jerheme Urban should all contribute to an improved offense this year.  If not as starters, then as quality depth.  Add that to a solid core of high-upside young players in Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert, Dexter McCluster* and Dwayne Bowe, and there is reason to be optimistic. 

*It is early to be putting McCluster in this group, and I don’t think he’ll be nearly as good as the other three.  But he should be useful, especially considering the roster spot he takes is probably Lance Long’s.  And his upside, at least on a per-touch basis, is high.

Of course, the most important piece is Cassel.  If he isn’t good, the offense won’t score many points, no matter how many running backs we have.  And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can admit that Cassel looked pretty bad last year.   There are plenty of excuses, and some of them are perfectly valid.  But the bottom line is that a team’s offense is going to be about as good as its quarterback’s numbers.  Last year, Cassel’s numbers weren’t good. 

Fortunately (or unfortunately), those numbers are a reflection of much more than just Cassel’s performance.  They tell us how good the passing game is, not how good the quarterback is.  Last year, the passing game was bad.  This year, it figures to be better, and I think Cassel will be a part of that.  I’ve beaten this into the ground, and I’m sure you all saw it coming as soon as I mentioned Vermeil, but I look at Cassel and I see a younger Trent Green.   Green was bad at first, too.  But then the running game took off, the line got better, and he was given respectable (though not spectacular) targets to throw to.  All of the sudden, Trent Green looked like a pretty good quarterback. 

This situation obviously isn’t exactly the same.  That team had Tony Gonzalez at tight end, this one has Lenny Pope (he’s infallible!).  That team had Willie Roaf, Will Shields, and a young Brian Waters.  We don’t have any of those guys.  But our receivers are better than that team’s and our running backs are just as good.  Charlie Weis fills the Al Saunders role nicely.  This offense won’t set records, but every part of it got better this offseason.  It stands to reason Matt Cassel will benefit from that.  I expect him to take a step forward this year, much like Green did in his second year here.  If I’m right, our offense will probably be pretty good.  Good enough to carry this team to a division title?  Doubtful.  Good enough to carry us to a few more wins and some entertaining games?  As the magic 8-ball says, all Hatts point to yes. 

Now I suggest everyone grab their rosaries and pray Branden Albert doesn’t get injured.  I’d do it myself, but I’m already praying for more life speed.  No matter how much I get, it’s never enough.  I think I’m addicted.  I’ve been hanging around local tracks with my pants down just watching people run.  My last paycheck was spent entirely on cocaine and olympic swimsuits (I wear them everywhere).  When I look at tape of myself last year I just can’t believe how slow I was.  Things are different now.  The other day I was running so fast I started hearing all these high pitched noises, I thought I was breaking the sound barrier.  It turned out I was screaming.  Made great time though.  Or I would’ve, if I could’ve remembered where I was going.  I was moving too fast to think.  Imagine how much better my life will be now that I’m moving slightly faster?  It’s gonna be awesome.  I’m literally going to become something I’m not.

Sifting through the spin

I’ve been making fun of Scott Pioli’s team speed comments for about a month now, but its all been in good fun.  Pioli’s statements are no different from what any GM says after any draft.  Draft small guys?  You got faster.  Draft big guys?  You got stronger.  Signed Rick Ankiel?  You got more athletic.  And so on.  GMs of losing teams have a pretty short shelf life.  An unfortunate consequence of that is that self-preservation becomes a big part of their job.  They always have to be ready to defend their decisions, or at least to paint them in a positive light.

It’s not rocket science.  None of this is even new.  I remember in ’96 the Chiefs drafted Jerome Woods, Reggie Tongue and Donnie Edwards and said their defense was getting faster.  That actually sort of worked out, too.  The next year they inserted Donnie Edwards into the starting lineup at middle linebacker over Tracy Simien.  Simien had been a solid player for a few years, so the move raised a few eyebrows.  Edwards, as we all know, ended up being awesome.  Most Chiefs fans probably don’t even remember who Tracy Simien is. 

I’m not saying the same thing will  happen this time.  I’m just saying, teams always say their draft picks are part of some grand strategy.  The reality is GMs are never quite sure who they’re going to be able to draft, and they’re just trying to get the players who are highest on their board.  If that ends up being 2 defensive backs and a receiver in the first 2 rounds?  Then yeah, you talk about team speed.  Nothing groundbreaking.  The only reason I’ve been talking about it so much is because I think its hilarious how Beast Nation took the ball and ran with it.  I bet if Scott Pioli drafted a toilet and said he wanted to improve Arrowhead’s bathrooms they’d be totally psyched.  Within a week there’d be articles all over the blogosphere about toilet quality being the key to super bowl success. 

Team speed is a cousin to the Sasquatch.  It isn’t real, we don’t need to worry about it.  If I were a betting man (which I am, and I usually lose) I’d put money on Pioli’s team speed comments being post-draft spin, not a reflection of an actual strategy. 

If you want real insight into their draft strategy, look no further than the focus on character.  Team speed sounds fun, but it was character they were really after.  Virtually all of their picks were team captains in college, and most of them also won their team’s various hustle and perfect attendance awards*.  If there is a big picture, this is it.  Pioli and Haley want character guys.  They want players who will work hard, follow orders, and buy into the system (shudder).  Our leaders believe in a strong centralized government, and they want citizens that will promptly pay their taxes. 

*Javier Arenas actually won his team’s “love to practice” award.  Yikes.  Arenas, the deck is stacked against you ever being a Big Matt favorite. 

Scott Pioli thinks that if he follows certain steps, the Chiefs will achieve success.  He has seen these steps work in the past.  You could make the argument that these steps are all he knows. 

Yes, I’m talking about the Patriot Way.  This might sound like an old song, but it still rings true.  I’ve been saying for a while now that Pioli is a tough nut to crack.  I’ve been consistently unable to predict his draft picks or his level of free agent activity.  But in one respect, he has been remarkably transparent: he wants to do things exactly the way they were done in New England. 

And you know, maybe it will work.  Ultimately its the players, not the “way”, that determine a team’s success.  Men like Scott Pioli might think otherwise, but they’re fooling themselves.  It is the players that win the games.  If these character guys are good players, then the strategy will have worked, regardless of the hows and whys.  I just hope Pioli isn’t on a quest to find his Willie Bloomquist.  I mean, if Rudi were in the draft this year we probably would’ve used a late-rounder on him. 

My ideal GM would be intelligent, open-minded and aggressive.  I don’t know that Scott Pioli is any of those things.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good GM.  There’s more than one way to skin a Lombardi Trophy.  Ours is imitation.  If it works, I’m fine with that.  If drafting all these character guys eventually creates a team that really does come together and overachieve, Scott Pioli will be due a serious tip-of-the-cap. 

And in terms of the immediate future, here’s a guarantee: I will get a Chiefs tattoo if we can somehow make it to the playoffs this year.  Any and all suggestions will be considered.

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