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New-look Chiefs open season against Bradley, Jags

10:23 AM, Sep 6, 2013   |    comments
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(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 handling it."

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 to know."

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 in April.

"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 those things."

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 throwing hand.

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 Fisher.

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 the season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS:

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

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