Changing On The Fly … Sunday Cup O’Chiefs

From St. Joseph, Missouri
In its most simple form football is built on the acquisition and defense of territory. That’s why the game has always had a militaristic feel about its customs, attitudes and approach. Every Army in history had leaders that spent countless hours creating plans for battle, plans that within the first moments of conflict tend to become obsolete.

Football is the same. There’s a certain comfort for the soul of those involved in the game that comes with its continuing pattern of preparation. The coaches change, the players change, but the rituals of the game carry on.

At least that was the case until the summer of 2011. What’s happening now in places like Latrobe, Pennsylvania and Georgetown, Kentucky and Napa, California, and at Missouri Western State University are moments that coaches and players have never seen before when it comes to training camp.

The aftermath of the NFL owners’ lockout that went four months and pushed into the last days of July, along with new regulations that are part of the labor agreement, the training camp landscape has dramatically changed.

Plans? There are no plans; they’ve all gone out the window. Assumptions? It’s best to remember what happens when one assumes anything. Traditions? Forget those; that’s not old school, its dead school.

Coaches are preparing on the fly. Players are reacting to that preparation on the fly. The entire military mindset of strict scheduling and orders is part of the past this year.

“It’s a little old school in that every night, I put up on the overhead the schedule for the next day, where they have to be for meetings, conditioning, practice, treatment,” Haley said. “The players are out there scribbling furiously to get the whole schedule written down so they know where they’re supposed to be.”

When the Chiefs held their last training camp under Dick Vermeil in the summer of 2005, each player received a thick binder that outlined just about every action and moment of training camp and the pre-season. On July 31st, a player could tell you what he was going to be doing at 5 p.m. on August 18th. Vermeil’s books were so thorough they included details and schedules for the regular-season as well.

During the lockout, Haley and his staff did what they’ve always done before training camp – they put together the schedule of practices and meetings for training camp. As it’s always been, their approach was to introduce the team to schemes in a fashion to help with quick assimilation.

“The lockout went so long, we eventually threw out all the schedules before camp started,” Haley said. “We are making up practice plans for the next day each night after meetings with the players.”

As he talked on Saturday, Haley said he had no idea what would be included in the practice plan for this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s just days before the team takes the field for its first game on Friday night against Tampa Bay at Arrowhead Stadium.

This situation isn’t so much about the mental as it is the physical. Without the players having worked together in a conditioning program, they have shown up for the start of training camp at varying levels of strength, both muscular and aerobic.

Haley has decided the only way to protect his players and build the type of team that can match last season’s AFC West division title is to catch everybody up to the same level off conditioning. That’s now 85 players and if not 85 different levels, then probably a dozen or more. We saw that when the signed free agents and other players showed up for their first day of practice on Thursday. Many of them struggled and some had to be carted off the field.

“We are still not there yet as a group,” Haley said. “That’s what I want to feel before we go full bore ahead. We’re adjusting on the fly. I would think that once we got through this Sunday off, they’ll come back and we’ll be able to get a good evaluation off where everybody is.

“Yesterday (Friday) as practice wound down and the heat went up, it was pretty clear to me that when we got to the conditioning portion of practice, you could see a pretty clear difference in the guys that had been here and the guys that were trying to get acclimated like that first group did last week. We are trying to get the entire team in the conditioning area we need to be. We have to make sure that’s not getting pushed to the side.”

It’s forced Haley to pull in the reins on himself and his coaching staff. They sat in their offices for the better part of four months without players around. They had an abundance of time to think, to plan, to be creative. That’s not always a good thing with coaches, who if given enough time away from players will allow their imaginations to run wild. They could have shown up for the starting of training camp with a playbook the size of War & Peace.

Instead, it’s a time when the K.I.S.S. principle holds the top spot – Keep It Simple Stupid. Thus, the offensive and defensive packages the team has worked with so far are the basics, keyed on fundamentals that serve as the foundation for everything else the Chiefs will do, whether moving the ball or trying to stop the other guys from moving the ball.

“As the head coach I’ve got to make the decisions that I think are in the best interest of the whole team,” Haley said. “We have a lot of staff meetings, and a lot of good conversation in there with some push and pull. I think when we leave out of there and we finish planning the next day, we are all on the same page. We are moving forward, and I think everybody feels pretty comfortable with what we’re doing.”

They had better feel some level of comfort because they are just days away from the first pre-season game.

“It is what it is,” Haley said of being ready to play Tampa Bay this coming Friday. “But our overall focus is September 11 against Buffalo. We are trying to get that right. If you get ahead of yourself, then you could take two big steps backwards and that’s what we can’t afford to do.”

7 Responses to “Changing On The Fly … Sunday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • August 7, 2011  - Ryan says:

    Cant wait for the Tampa game

  • August 7, 2011  - Dan says:

    I expect some incredibly simple and boring preseason games this year. Much more so than they already are.

  • August 7, 2011  - el cid says:

    Suggest the Chiefs will come out very hot at the beginning of the real season. Most teams will have a conditioning problem, so wins during the firts 6 games will give a big edge as they scramble to get to speed.

  • August 9, 2011  - Mark says:

    Haley doesn’t care about the meaningless exhibition season normally, as shown by his 1-7 record. This year, he cares about it even less, if possible. I expect us to go 1-3 at best, probably 0-4, and will definitely get spanked by TB. But as long as we avoid too many injuries, I could care less.

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