by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We’ll say this much about the Bill Belichick coaching disciples:

They sure do get a lot of chances.

So it goes in Kansas City this fall where Romeo Crennel, one of several members of the Belichick coaching tree, gets another head coaching opportunity after his failed regime from a few years ago in Cleveland. Crennel’s latest chance at Arrowhead actually dates back to late last season when he was promoted from his defensive coordinator’s role to succeed the abrasive Todd Haley, who had worn out his welcome and walked the plank before the end of the 2011 campaign. Crennel, much more respected than was Haley in the clubhouse, helped solidify his new full-time role with a couple of impressive wins in the final three weeks, including a stunning upset over then-unbeaten Green Bay, and a final-day win over Tim Tebow and the Broncos that would have knocked Denver out of the playoffs had Oakland not lost to San Diego at the same time.

Of course, the Belichick connections run deep these days in Kansas City, as former Patriots GM Scott Pioli has had the same job at Arrowhead since 2009, and was quite familiar with Crennel from when Romeo was the d.c. for New England’s Super Bowl teams earlier in the last decade. Pioli is also the son-in-law of Bill Parcells, who was Belichick’s mentor. The Belichick/Parcells connections are indeed woven throughout the Chiefs organization.

(Pioli is also a notorious control freak, bordering, sources say, on paranoia, but that’s another story for another day.)

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Of course, there’s also the matter of the Belichick disciples and their failures to succeed on their own as head coaches. Crennel, Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis, and Josh McDaniels have all failed, sometimes spectacularly so, and each been fired from head coaching jobs after leaving Belichick’s side.

Weis, now at Kansas, and Crennel have their second shots this season; Mangini has already struck out twice with the Jets and Browns. As for McDaniels, he’s back with Belichick as his offensive coordinator after his brief head coaching fling flamed out in Denver, and an unsuccessful year as Rams o.c. a year ago. And last year, Weis, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator, saw no one block his path to leave Gainesville for Lawrence after the Gator offense finished ranked in the triple digits nationally.

More recently, there’s new Penn State HC Bill O’Brien, who took the Nittany Lions job after being Belichick’s o.c. with New England. It’s still early, and a lot has happened in State College since O’Brien took the job, but he’s already 0-1, with a loss to Ohio U in his opener.

Like we said, the Belichick disciples have had problems out on their own. We’ll see if Crennel can finally change the pattern this fall.

While some are regarding the Chiefs as a chic selection to win the AFC West, Las Vegas oddsmakers are not as convinced. The West is forecast to be tightly bunched, but even so, K.C. is rated no better than the third choice to win the division (mostly at 3/1 where offered). The Chiefs are also grouped with a collection of middle-rung teams to win the AFC at 22/1, and are a heavy 50/1 shot to win the Super Bowl, where K.C. as not visited since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Meanwhile, the season-win total is being posted at 8, suggesting that Nevada wagering outlets are not holding their breath for a Kansas City surge this fall.

The deposed Haley, however, had some legitimate excuses a year ago when injuries decimated the Chiefs strike force, with key weapons such as QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, and TE Tony Moeaki all going out with injuries during the season. By the end of the campaign, K.C., which had been forced to use overmatched Tyler Palko at QB for a brief while in November after Cassel went down, was even employing Kyle Orton, a short-term fix who had started the season as Denver’s starting QB before being supplanted by Tim Tebow at midseason, and it was in fact Orton who led those late-season wins over the Packers and his former employer Broncos.

Orton, however, was never regarded as a long-term answer at Arrowhead, and left for Dallas via free agency in the offseason. Cassel (left, in preseason action vs. the Rams), back from the broken hand that sidelined him for the final seven games last fall, was and still is regarded as the starter.

Crennel, however, will be utilizing the franchise’s fourth different offensive coordinator in as many years, with ex-Dolphin o.c. Brian Daboll now stewarding the strike force. Daboll will hopefully have better luck on the injury front than the Chiefs did a year ago.

Crennel, whose conservative nature suggests he would probably be comfortable with Antonin Scalia as his offensive coordinator, will no doubt approve of Daboll’s new-look strike force that will be run-oriented and often feature double-tight end alignments. The free-agent additions of ultra-physical RB Peyton Hillis (right, in preseason action vs. the Rams) and TE Kevin Boss are indicative of the type of power-based offense Daboll will be looking to implement.

Mostly, Crennel desires that infantry diversion as a means to effectively set up play-action for Cassel, who could benefit from that extra tick of time in the pocket to scan the field. The wideout brigade received good news in late August when Dwayne Bowe finally signed his franchise player tender offer and showed up in camp before the end of preseason, likely giving Cassel enough time to get comfy with what was one of his preferred targets a year ago.

Crennel will continue to act as his own defensive coordinator and will no doubt benefit from the healthy return to action of SS Eric Berry, another of those KO’d by injury a year ago. The addition of first-round draft choice Montari Poe (left), a run-stuffing DT from Memphis, will hopefully help to shore up a soft spot on last year’s K.C. stop unit that ranked in the bottom quartile (in 26th spot) in NFL rush defense stats last season.

But the injury epidemic that mostly impacted the offense a year ago has already struck the “D” in preseason. Linebacker Derrick Johnson has been hobbling around on a bad ankle, CB Brandon Flowers has a bum heel, safety Kendrick Lewis is dealing with a shoulder injury, and backup CB Jalil Brown has been trying to recover from a groin strain.

Then there's the one-game suspension of linebacker Tamba Hali, who violated the league's substance-abuse policy, and will miss the opener vs. Atlanta. The “D” was also bludgeoned in August by both St. Louis and Seattle.

Thus, the Chiefs could be without two starting linebackers, their starting safety, their best cornerback and his backup for the opener vs. the Falcons. And then there’s safety Berry (right), who is coming back from a torn ACL, and DT Anthony Toribio, whose ankle is ailing.

Crennel also lost stellar CB Brandon Carr to Dallas in free agency, although Pioli moved quickly to sign ex-Raider Stanford Routt as his replacement to play opposite Flowers. If, that is, Flowers is good enough to go as he deals with that nagging heel injury.

Whatever the lineup, Crennel needs his stop unit, as mentioned earlier, to improve its run defense (132 ypg in 2011) and generate more of a pass rush after LBs Hali and Justin Houston combined for 50% more sacks (17 ½) than the rest of the platoon (which generated only 11 ½). Besides the injury issues, the quick development of first-round NT Poe will be crucial to Kansas City upgrading where needed on the stop end.

The Chiefs were also a reliable “under” team last season (4-12), and similar, if not quite as dramatic, “totals” results would be no surprise, given the Crennel influence.

Summary...We view the Chiefs as something of a default option in the AFC West. While Denver, if it can keep Peyton Manning healthy, and San Diego seem to have more upside, each is also just a key injury or two away from potential problems. Kansas City would seem the most likely to capitalize if either, or both, among the Broncos and/or Chargers falter.

Still, we remain a bit unconvinced about Kansas City’s playoff credentials, and we’re not sure that GM Pioli has adequately addressed depth issues that could be put to the test early by the rash of defensive injuries in the preseason, when both the “D” and the “O” hardly looked playoff-caliber. We also must note that Crennel never coached one of his Cleveland teams to a winning record in his previous head-coaching stop. Until further notice, the Belichick disciples remain a difficult sell.


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