- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- The Kansas City Chiefs know all about the low expectations for them in 2008.
They know they are coming off a 4-12 season. They know they have nearly 30 rookies on the 80-man roster. They know they only have 12 players with six or more years' experience. They know they traded Jared Allen, their defensive centerpiece, before the draft. They know there are major questions about their quarterback, Brodie Croyle, and they know they are expected to be the last-place team in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL.
"We get it," Kansas City coach Herman Edwards said. "We've heard it all."
Yet Edwards and his blissfully ignorant team couldn't care less.
The 2008 season in Kansas City will be about nothing but getting the program together. It is about reshaping a franchise that suddenly grew old without a payoff. It's about a future that starts now, and they are not making any excuses or apologies.
"We know who we are," Edwards said. "We are a team that's rebuilding. Let's face it. That's what we are. We know we need another good draft. We know all that, but we also know we will work hard every day to get better."
Observing the Chiefs' practice, it's very easy to see there are no hang-ups or worries of pending failure. The only focus is competition. Edwards says training camp has been much more productive than he had hoped, and he was even more encouraged after the Chiefs' promising play in the preseason opener in Chicago last Thursday.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said the competition and focus at this camp has been the best he has seen on any team in years. Edwards and Cunningham attribute the high spirits in western Wisconsin to the youth movement.
"Everybody is playing for a job," Edwards said. "We have that type of determination from both younger and older players who want to be part of this team and who want to get better."
Can Brodie Croyle be the Chiefs' franchise quarterback?
We should know the answer to this question by the end of the season. The Chiefs are giving Croyle every chance to do well. Edwards is very comfortable with Croyle's progress, especially after the quarterback led the team on a 16-play touchdown drive against Chicago last week. Croyle fits new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's controlled scheme. But Croyle isn't going to wow anybody with his physical attributes, and he could get beat up a lot as the offensive line grows along with him.
Are the youngsters ready for prime time?
The future of the Chiefs depends on this. In Kansas City, there is quiet confidence that the team will be ready to roll in a couple of years. But the youngsters will have to play now. Eight or nine rookies are expected to contribute heavily this year. Many observers think Kansas City's rookie class can be one of the best in the NFL this decade. Among the players to watch are defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, left tackle Branden Albert, cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Brad Cottam and safety DaJuan Morgan.
Are general manager Carl Peterson and Edwards safe?
They probably are. The Chiefs' ownership is well aware that there's a youth movement and there are some good young pieces here. Peterson has been a fixture in Kansas City since 1989 and Edwards is entering his third year with the Chiefs. It seems there's good chemistry, and Peterson and Edwards will be allowed to oversee the development of their rebuilding plan.
While "youth" is the key word in Kansas City, there are some veterans who are expected to carry the load. Running back Larry Johnson is one of them. Johnson, one of the most notable workhorses in the NFL, probably won't carry as much of the load as he has in the past after being sidelined for half of last season with a broken foot. Now healed, he has looked strong in training camp and played well against the Bears last week.
Still, he'll have help. Charles, drafted out of Texas in third round, will spell Johnson some. But the Chiefs still expect Johnson to be a 1,000-plus-yard runner and he will help provide a veteran presence.
Newcomer to watch
While there are high expectations for this draft class, the crown jewel is Dorsey. The fifth overall pick from LSU is expected to make an instant impact at defensive tackle. Many league observers thought Dorsey was the best player available in the draft. The Chiefs were thrilled that he dropped to the fifth pick, falling past AFC West rival Oakland, who choose tailback Darren McFadden.
Dorsey has to be considered an early favorite for defensive rookie of the year. He has dealt with a minor knee injury recently, but he started off camp strong. Dorsey is good against both the run and the pass, and has the ability to be the type of player around whom an entire defense is built.
The Chiefs are still trying to figure out who will be the No. 2 receiver opposite No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe. Devard Darling, Jeff Webb and rookie Will Franklin are all fighting for the job. The word around camp is that guard Brian Waters is playing at a high level, and he has been energized by the young players around him. Tight end Tony Gonzalez may be talking about retiring after the 2009 season, but the Chiefs still believe he will be an impact receiver this year. While the team likes backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen, he still has work to do if he wants to compete with Brodie Croyle down the road.
Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com