NFL Preview - Kansas City (0-0) at Jacksonville (0-0)|
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's Redemption Sunday in Jacksonville.
There, on the visiting sideline at EverBank Field, Kansas City coach Andy Reid
and quarterback Alex Smith will try to combine for a similar version of the
magic they were able to intermittently create while going it alone in their
previous NFL cities.
Reid was a nine-time playoff participant and one-time Super Bowl runner-up in
13 seasons at Philadelphia, but was let go after the Eagles foundered to a
4-12 finish in 2012. Smith, meanwhile, was drafted No. 1 overall by San
Francisco and had worked his way to NFL elite status last season before a
concussion and Colin Kaepernick ultimately led to an address change.
"I thought (Niners coach) Jim (Harbaugh) did a nice job with (Smith) out in
San Francisco," Reid said.
"But here, everybody's on board. I'm asking him to do a ton of things and he's
Kansas City hired Reid within days of the firing by the Eagles, and
acquired Smith two months later in exchange for a second-round pick in April's
draft and a conditional choice in 2014 -- with designs on putting the two
together to revitalize his own franchise.
Dorsey replaced Scott Pioli, Reid replaces Romeo Crennel and Smith replaces a
motley lot of 2012 passers that included Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.
"I sincerely mean this -- (Reid is) having more fun," Chiefs general manager
John Dorsey said. "I see a more vibrant person. I see Andy, the coach I used
The Chiefs were 2-14 last season, equaling the 2008 team for the worst mark in
a proud franchise history. They averaged just 13.2 points per game and aimed
to improve up front by selecting tackle Eric Fisher with the top overall pick
"I think every team in the NFL has positive expectations right now, every
single one," Smith said. "It's a fresh start. It's a new beginning for
everybody. It's what team is going to put in the work and take the
steps necessary to get better?"
Adding to the Reid/Smith optimism is the presence of significant talent
elsewhere on the Kansas City roster, which was home to six Pro Bowl
representatives in spite of the desultory record.
The stars include dynamic running back Jamaal Charles, linebackers Tamba Hali,
Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson, safety Eric Berry and punter Dustin
Colquitt. Also on that list is a prime target for Smith, receiver Dwayne Bowe,
who remained with the Chiefs thanks to a five-year, $56 million deal he signed
in the offseason.
"Even though in the win column last year we didn't do very good, our
confidence level is up," Johnson said. "It starts from the coach down. The
coach is a big representation of having that confidence, believing in his
players, and Andy Reid sets a good example for us."
Time will tell if the same proves true for the Jaguars, who bring new coach
Gus Bradley in for his first taste of the NFL as a team's top man. He was
defensive coordinator for three seasons in Seattle and oversaw an improvement
that brought the Seahawks from near the league's bottom to nearer its top.
He replaced Mike Mularkey, who went 2-14 in one season and was out upon the
arrival of new general manager David Caldwell.
But, while instant improvement would be welcomes, it's not the initial
measuring stick, according to Bradley.
"When you look ahead, you forget about enjoying the process," he said. "We
want to compete, have our guys go hard, get better at fundamentals and
techniques, but also enjoy it. And when you look ahead, sometimes you miss
Looking ahead to Sunday, Jacksonville still has question marks at quarterback,
where anointed starter Blaine Gabbert's status in doubt after offseason
shoulder surgery and a more recent hairline fracture of the thumb on his
If he can't go, the role of starter goes to Chad Henne, who won one of six
games he started in Gabbert's absence in 2012.
"It's uncomfortable, but at the same time, it's just something you can't worry
about," Gabbert said.
"You're going to feel good some days and some days not so much, but at the
same time the more I can do out there the more reps I can get, it's going to
help me mentally and physically."
Among the building blocks for Bradley is tackle Luke Joeckel, who was selected
out of Texas A&M one slot after Kansas City led off the draft by taking
Second-year wide receiver Justin Blackmon will miss the season's initial four
games for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, leaving the
slack to be picked up by Cecil Shorts, who caught 55 balls for 979 yards and
seven TDs last season.
Also back is workhorse runner Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed 10 games with a
foot injury in 2012 after leading the league a year earlier with 1,666 yards.
Without him, the Jaguars averaged just 299.3 total yards per game -- fourth
from the bottom in the league.
"If we can get a guy to get to his highest level, then we win," Bradley said.
"That's how we define winning, that's how we talk about winning."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
An ominous sign for Jacksonville could be the matchup of rookie Dwayne Gratz,
a third-round draft pick in his NFL debut, against Kansas City's Bowe, who
made six catches in one half during his last preseason tune-up against
Pittsburgh. Gratz had a pair of INTs in the preseason and will challenge Bowe
physically, but will be challenged himself in terms of foot speed if Bowe gets
off the line un-jostled.
The Jaguars, whether they start Gabbert or Henne at QB, will have to contend
with three Pro Bowl linebackers and a Pro Bowl safety in the forms of Hali,
Houston, Johnson and Berry. If Jones-Drew is unable to take heat off the
passers, the Jacksonville offense will be behind an immediate 8-ball to start
There's generally not a lot to choose from when a pair of 2-14 teams get
together, but the Chiefs' inglorious finish last year seems much more a mirage
-- given the amount of talent they have and the amount of off-field turmoil
they sustained .
With a proven successful coach now in place and a solid passer to lead the
offense, Kansas City could compete with last year's Indianapolis team in the
category of most drastic turnaround.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chiefs 28, Jaguars 14
09/05 11:25:24 ET