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Posted Aug 3, 2010

WR Dwayne Bowe and LB Derrick Johnson are experiencing a different training camp than they were 12 months ago

A year ago, two very familiar names were dealing with adversity in River Falls. Turn the page forward 12 months and things are much different, at least on the field, for WR Dwayne Bowe and LB Derrick Johnson.

For each player, the difference isn’t due to a change in scenery; it’s because of an apparent change to their football approach this off-season. So far, the benefits have carried over into training camp and Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has acknowledged that both Bowe and Johnson are ahead of where they were one year ago.

After leaving the Chiefs Training Facility in mid-June, Bowe worked out on his own before packing his bags and heading to All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald’s football camp at the University of Minnesota. The camp has become the place to be for NFL receivers just prior to the start of NFL training camps with its notoriously intense workouts.

“It was made very clear to all the players that they needed to use (their time off in July) wisely and not go backwards in any way, shape or form,” Haley said.

For Bowe, Haley’s words were one of the reasons to attend the camp. Another might have been the rave reviews that Fitzgerald’s camp receives across the league. Minnesota’s Sidney Rice often credits the camp with helping him reach his first Pro Bowl in 2009.

While in Minnesota, Bowe received praise from Fitzgerald (via Twitter) for his work ethic and commitment towards improvement during the grueling camp. Obviously, Bowe’s decision to attend was something that sat well with his head coach as well.  

“I’m very close with Larry obviously so that was something that I personally last year wanted Dwayne [to do],” Haley said. “Larry had showed an interest or said he would like him to be up there working with him. It was something I really wanted him to do last which we weren’t able to get to. This year it worked out well. That’s just one piece.”

Bowe’s carry-over into to training camp has been impressive to say the least. Not only is he drawing plenty of applause and love from the crowds in St. Joe, but the toughest critic for Chiefs wide receivers is taking notice as well.

“We’re five practices into camp; (Bowe) is in my mind’s eye, clearly ahead of where he was last year at this time,” Haley said. “That’s really what all of us are trying to do is be better each day.”

Derrick Johnson

As for Johnson, he was one of the all-stars of the Chiefs 2010 off-season program, even earning a small locker room award in the process. Like Bowe, Johnson’s opening of camp has caught the attention of fans and Haley has taken notice of Johnson’s transition into training camp as well.

“He’s clearly ahead of where he was last year and I’m excited about that,” Haley said of Johnson. “He was one of our top off-season guys and got a little fun award for it and I think he’s trying to take the next step like all of us, which is training camp. Or the off-season won’t mean anything.”

Thus far, the Chiefs have treated the competition at inside linebacker in the same manner that it was handled in OTAs and mini-camp. In short, there are no set starters at the moment. The only thing set in stone is the competition surrounding those starting positions.

Haley and the rest of the coaching staff have been successful in getting that message across to all the players involved.

“It’s just brining a competitive edge out of everybody and I think that I’ll stand up to the challenge,” Johnson said.

Johnson is often paired in team drills with Jovan Belcher, while Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams generally form the other duo. Both groups appear to rotate through first-team responsibilities every few practice sessions and Johnson has continued to be a mainstay in the Chiefs nickel package.

For Johnson, he says that nothing changed for him this off-season in the physical sense, but instead credits mental adjustments for his successful spring and start to training camp.

“(I changed) mentally,” Johnson said. “Physically, I did my same regimen just to get stronger and faster. But mentally, I went at it knowing that I need to get on the field.

“You just have to block out all of the negative things that you hear, or all of the things that aren’t true about yourself,” Johnson continued. “Being confident in yourself is the most important part. Know that you have the ability.”

Thus far, the face for starting positions among inside linebackers has arrived in St. Joseph as-advertised.

“I think everybody out there feels like, without speaking for them, guys feel like if they’re the best guy for the job they’ll get the job,” Haley said. “I don’t know that I separate anybody right now.”

The competition doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon either. It should be a fun preseason watching Johnson and the rest of Kansas City’s inside linebackers chase after starting positions.

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