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Camp Notebook: Matt Cassel high on Chiefs offensive personnel

Posted Jul 31, 2012

Chiefs Training Camp Notebook Presented by Heartland Health

St. Joseph, Mo. – Over a 20-minute stretch of practice this week Matt Cassel connected on two deep passes to Jonathan Baldwin, hit Steve Breaston slanting over the middle and found Peyton Hills out of the backfield multiple times.

Cassel got Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster and Kevin Boss involved as well.

Now in his fourth year as the Chiefs starting quarterback, Cassel has plenty of offensive options at his disposal - and that’s without the team’s leading receiver from the past three seasons – Dwayne Bowe – in training camp.

Year four is a big year, no doubt, but Cassel says he isn’t feeling any extra pressure. In fact, Cassel feels more comfortable than ever thanks to the multitude of weapons expected to surround him in the Chiefs offense this season.

“There is no doubt that this is the best personnel group we’ve had since we’ve been here in Kansas City,” said Cassel. “Now it's just about us coming together as an offensive unit. You never know until you get out there how you are going to mesh as a unit. Like I’ve said before, I think we are moving in the right direction and making progress every day.”

After beginning camp slowly, Kansas City’s offense has started stacking productive practices together. The first-team produced several highlights during Tuesday’s night practice, including Cassel firing touchdowns to Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston in red zone scrimmage snaps.

More importantly, Cassel has limited his mistakes in the passing game throughout the first week of camp.

A hungry and improved defense featuring the return Eric Berry has provided the offense with plenty of challenges, but a diving interception from Javier Arenas is one of the few instances defenders have been able to get their hands on one of Cassel’s passes.

“I think it takes the pressure off of me,” Cassel said of his surrounding talent. “When you have a lot of guys around you, at the quarterback position, it leaves your hands and you let them make the plays. It makes it a little bit easier on me.”

McCluster Motivated

Dexter McCluster continues to work at wide receiver during training camp, though he’s still listed as a running back on the Chiefs official roster. The listing is just one of several reasons to believe McCluster’s days in Kansas City’s backfield haven’t expired.

McCluster has been involved in a number of different personnel groupings early in training camp. He’s new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s swing-man, expected to factor into the offense based off individual game matchups.

“What we do as a staff is we try to put them in good positions to be successful, and it’s our job to do that and it’s their job to go out there and try to execute it the best they can,” Daboll said.

For McCluster that means being ready to step in as a wide receiver, running back or return man. The majority of his looks have come out of the slot thus far in St. Joseph, but he’s been noticeably active in other offensive roles as well.

“Honestly, I like the fact that I can play multiple roles and I like the challenge,” McCluster said. “I feel that the running back coach and the wide receiver coach are doing just as much to help me get better at that position as the next one, so right now I feel like I am mastering both.”

McCluster played exclusively at running back last season, leading the Chiefs regular rushers by averaging 4.5-yards per carry. He finished the year second on the team with 516 rushing yards on 114 carries.

A high-ankle sprain hampered McCluster throughout his rookie season in Kansas City as he bounced between running back and wide receiver. He rushed 18 times for 71 yards (3.9 avg.) and caught 21 passes for 209 yards (10.9 avg.) in seven starts – five at receiver and two at running back.

“I have no preference,” McCluster said. “I think it makes me more versatile to throw defenses off balance. I can lineup as a slot and lineup as a running back. Right now I have to master both so whenever my number is called I’m there.”

Exactly how the Chiefs use McCluster this season might change on a week-to-week basis.

“In the end zone - that’s where I like him best, and I think he has the capability of getting there as a slot receiver, a running back, a kick returner,” said head coach Romeo Crennel. “All of those things, he will be helpful to us.”

Take Five: Quick-Hitters from Tuesday’s Night Practice

1. Heartland Health Watch: A decision was made prior to practice for Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki to rest their knees with practice moving to the turf field at Spratt Stadium. Brandon Flowers limped to the sideline and exited practice early with an undisclosed injury. Rookie Junior Hemingway missed practice with a strained groin suffered in Monday’s practice. Recent signees Edgar Jones and Ray Willis did not participate due to the CBA’s mandatory “acclimation period.”

2. Javier Arenas moved into Flowers’ cornerback spot opposite Stanford Routt. Steve Maneri worked in Moeaki’s place next to Kevin Boss in two-tight formations.

3. Red Zone work was the flavor of the evening with the first and second-team offense converting touchdowns to open scrimmage snaps (Matt Cassel to Jonathan Baldwin and Brady Quinn to Zeke Markshausen). But the defense got hot from there, winning third-team reps when Gabe Miller flushed Ricky Stanzi out of the pocket and toward the sideline to force an incompletion. The defense went on to sweep the second set of red zone snaps between the first, second and third units.

4. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and head coach Romeo Crennel went unscripted for the final set of red zone work. Cassel connected with Steve Breaston in the front right corner of the end zone to give the No. 1 offense a win. The defense forced red zone field goals against the second and third offenses. Andy Studebaker got loose around the left offensive edge for a third-down sack during second-team drills.

5. Fullback Shane Bannon got plenty of work in as the only fullback in training camp. Bannon worked with all three offensive groups throughout the night practice.

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