Chiefs adjust to life after Gonzalez

Saturday, August 1, 2009 | 11:43 p.m. CDT

RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Trent Green did it. Damon Huard, too. Even Brodie Croyle in his limited time under center.

Anyone who's played quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs the past dozen years has relied on Tony Gonzalez to bail them out of a tight spot.

That luxury isn't there anymore. Traded to Atlanta, Gonzalez will be catching passes from Matt Ryan this season instead of Kansas City's new quarterback, Matt Cassel.

So how do the Chiefs replace Gonzalez, one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history?

They're not even going to try. That singular focus of locking onto one guy is being replaced by an everyone-gets-a-chance approach.

"We did rely on him so much because he was such a great player," tight end Brad Cottam said Saturday after Kansas City's first practice of training camp. "Now we're finding new weapons."

One of the most popular athletes in Kansas City's history, Gonzalez was a congenial, sticky-fingered professional who had a knack for making difficult catches in key situations during his 12 seasons there. A 10-time Pro Bowler, he had more catches, yards receiving and TD catches than any other tight end in NFL history.

No way was Kansas City going to be able to fill those cleats with one person. Instead, they've retooled the offense, made it less tight end-centric.

It was probably going to happen anyway. New coach Todd Haley didn't have much use for receiving tight ends as Arizona's offensive coordinator (Ben Patrick led Cardinals tight ends with 11 receptions for 104 yards last season). So even if Gonzalez stayed with the Chiefs, there didn't figure to be as many balls thrown to that position.

Still, this Gonzalez was arguably the best offensive player in franchise history. No matter how many people you use, filling that hole will be tough.

"You don't a replace a player like that, necessarily," Haley said.

So where will all those balls go?

The running backs will get some. Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles are both capable receivers out of the backfield, but Johnson battled injuries last season and Charles has yet to show he's an every-down back.

The tight ends figure to get a few, too, though obviously not nearly as many as Gonzalez. Cottam saw limited action behind Gonzalez last season and the rest of the tight ends in camp are either journeymen (Sean Ryan, Tony Curtis) or rookies (Tom Crabtree, Jake O'Connell).

Most likely, the bulk of the load will go the receivers.

Haley loves throwing to receivers — three had 1,000-yard seasons under him in Arizona a year ago. Kansas City has some talent, but plenty of question marks to go with it.

Dwayne Bowe has 156 catches for more than 2,000 yards in two seasons with the Chiefs but has been plagued by inconsistency, dropping too many passes. Bobby Engram is 12th on the all-time receptions list with 645 and should provide veteran leadership — if he still has something at 36.

Mark Bradley's success will likely hinge on his ability to stay in the lineup. He's never played a full season in four years in the NFL.

"With the absence of Tony, obviously there's going to be some balls going around," Engram said. "He was a tremendous player for a long time. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

The opportunity for the tight ends in camp now? Lots of blocking.

Since the first day the team gathered during the offseason, tight ends coach Bob Bicknell's emphasis has been on blocking. Certainly, the tight ends will see the ball in this offense. If nothing else, it helps to keep the defense honest. But the focus, at least for now, is on blocking more than Gonzalez ever had to.

"Coach Bicknell tells us, you're going to catch balls, so we're going to work on blocking, blocking, blocking," Cottam said. "It was one of those deals where if you block, the balls are going to come your way."

Just not as often as they did to Gonzalez.


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