New-look Chiefs still learning to communicate
By DAVE SKRETTA
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Alex Smith might as well have been playing Paul Newman's part from the seminal 1967 film "Cool Hand Luke" after the Kansas City Chiefs struggled in a preseason loss to San Francisco.
You know, where Newman -- playing Luke, a young prisoner -- repeats a line delivered by the captain earlier in the movie: "What we've got here," he says, "is a failure to communicate."
Yep, there were plenty of failures to communicate last Friday night.
Smith couldn't get on the same page with his wide receivers. The offensive line may as well have been speaking a different language the way they performed. The collective group was unable to put together a sustained drive all game against the 49ers' salty defense.
Smith was among several players who bemoaned the communication issues afterward. Several others said during practice this week that developing better communication, particularly on the offensive side, has been a priority heading into Saturday night's game in Pittsburgh.
Perhaps it's only natural given the amount of turnover in the roster.
Smith is throwing to a slew of new wide receivers, including A.J. Jenkins, who arrived in a trade with San Francisco just this week. His top two tight ends, Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce, are newcomers to the Chiefs. And he's working behind an offensive line that returns center Rodney Hudson from a season-ending injury and welcomes No. 1 pick Eric Fisher at right tackle.
In fact, just five of the 22 offensive players on the Chiefs' two-deep this week are the same as they were for the final game last year.
Throw in what's basically an entirely new coaching staff trying to install a new offense in a condensed timeframe and it's not surprising that messages get crossed.
"There were a couple plays we had a little communication problem, but you just have to keep doing it," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "There were a couple of plays, and they just have to work through those. That's all part of getting better. You look around and most teams are working that out, figuring that out, and we have to do a better job there, too."
That's especially true along the offensive line.
Even though three starters are back, there is still a perilous lack of experience protecting Smith's hide. Left tackle Branden Albert is entering his sixth season, and that's enough to make him the elder statesman by two years. The five players expected to line up for the opener against Jacksonville on Sept. 8 have a combined 120 starts in just 11 seasons in the league.
"We've got some things we need to fix," said Albert, who was part of the first-team line that allowed Smith to be sacked three times by San Francisco. "We're going to figure this thing out. We got no choice. We have to protect our quarterback to win games."
Part of the reason for many of the problems up front? Miscommunication.
"It's up to the player, the person, how well we jell together," Albert said. "I think guys are fighting every day to do it, but it's a work in progress. Guys are trying, they're working hard. They're listening to their coaches. We're working toward it."
Even the old man of the line is finding it hard, though. He's trying to learn his fourth offense in his sixth season in the NFL, and "probably my hardest one," Albert said.
"But if we get this thing going and do what we're supposed to do, it could be a pretty good one," he said. "There are a lot of nuances; a lot of detailed things on every play that you have to remember. But we're in this together. It's not just me. We're all in this together. We have to work together to get this done. ... I believe we will."