Jamie Squire - Getty
During the opening weeks of OTAs, the big question in Kansas City has been the offensive line. Some people are overlooking third-year quarterback Brodie Croyle. Some view his chances to become a consistent NFL starter as remote, while others (like yours truly) believe he’s up to the job.
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, one thing is certain – the future is now for the Chiefs young gunslinger.
No one can truly evaluate what kind of quarterback Croyle will be in Kansas City based on his 2007 performance. His critics point out that he wasn’t a great college quarterback, which has bled into a blasé start in Kansas City. He didn’t win a single game as a starter last year.
But he was also playing behind one of the most inconsistent offensive lines in the NFL, and missed out on the opportunity to hand the ball to Larry Johnson, who was lost for the season before Croyle officially became the Chiefs’ starter.
With limited access to the Chiefs in OTAs, you have to pick and choose what you want to see before attempting to formulate an opinion that somehow leads you to a reasonable conclusion on Croyle. That’s not easy to do, but if you look closely, you can see signs that indicate the 2008 version of Brodie Croyle is more in line with the edition that led Alabama to a Sugar Bowl victory.
Croyle won that game with an unsure offensive line, no real wide receiver talent and a poor running game. Sound familiar? Croyle is more comfortable with the 2008 Chiefs attack, however.
“I really like the offense," he said this week. "We’ve got a lot of good ideas. There really isn’t a name for what we do. If we can run the ball, we’re going to do it. If we can throw it, we’re going to throw it. It really fits our personnel very well."
"Coach Shula (Mike Shula, Croyle's college coach) coached with Chan Gailey, so they have a lot of the same ideas. I kind of had an idea going into it. So far, so good, we’ve had two pretty good weeks."
Since Dick Vermeil and Al Saunders left town three years ago, the Chiefs have struggled to score points. Last year the team had hoped to put a band-aid on their offensive woes in order to make one last run, but it didn’t work – the running game sputtered and the offense never found a consistent wide receiver threat to complement freshman phenom Dwayne Bowe.
But the old Chiefs are no more. The high-powered offense has been torn down, tossed in the dumpster and will never see the light of day again.
Instead, Herm Edwards chose Gailey and his no-nonsense approach to define his offense this year.
“I’d like for teams to not know what we’re going to do next," said Gailey. "That’s what balance creates."
“If you look at statistics, really first-half statistics are what tell you that. Because if you get behind in the game and you’re having to throw it to catch up and if you get ahead in the game, you’re having to run it to run the clock out. So, second-half statistics skew your overall balance. Really, I look at first-half and how we’ll handle first halves of games to see if we’re balanced or not."
The new version, with Croyle at the helm, isn’t likely to run on premium fuel just yet because there aren’t enough sure-fire cogs in place. Forgetting the offensive line for a moment, the Chiefs have to find another wide receiver or two. They must find another tight end who can catch the ball besides Tony Gonzalez.
We already know that Johnson will have plenty of company in the backfield with the likes Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith. So that leaves it up to Croyle.
"I believe in running the football," said Gailey. "I believe you have to be a physical football team to win. It’s a tough game for tough people. You have to be able to play physical. We want to throw the football effectively and use our weapons, whoever they may be."
But Gailey is merely the architect. Croyle is the one who must deliver the goods on Sunday. There are already some people looking for his replacement – some fans had hoped the Chiefs would get a shot at Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. There are rumblings that second-year man Tyler Thigpen is ready to challenge for a starting job.
Those things didn’t and won’t happen, however. The job is Croyle’s, so there’s plenty of reason to give him the benefit of the doubt until the season ends. Right now he’s on the hot seat, and he knows it.
Here’s what’s important, and what people don’t see - the faith Gailey has in his quarterback. Tuesday, he was downright adamant to reporters that he has the right quarterback to lead KC’s offense.
“There’s no question in my mind he can be that guy," Gailey said of Croyle. "There’s no question."
Can you really doubt the only coach in Kansas City who previously guided an offense to the Super Bowl?
You shouldn’t, but the good thing for those debating Croyle’s future is that between now and New Years Day 2009, everyone will get the answer. If Croyle fails the task at hand, we’ll have plenty of time to debate the next step and those critics will be thumping their chests.
However, if Croyle has success and gets this young group of Chiefs to finish 8-8, we all might have something to look forward to a year from now. And that might be enough to silence those who aren’t paying attention to the signs that Croyle’s the one to lead the Chiefs today, tomorrow and in the future.