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Postcard from camp: Chiefs

SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Lee Jenkins had to say about the Chiefs' camp in River Falls, Wis. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.

For the 19th and final year, the Chiefs are summering in tiny River Falls, Wisc. (population 12,560), a charming hamlet where Chiefs banners hang from light-posts on Main Street and Chiefs gear is sold in storefronts of sporting goods stores. Think of the Dodgers in Vero Beach. River Falls is less than an hour from Minneapolis and less than four hours from Green Bay, but the restaurants and bars have signs out front welcoming Chiefs players, staff and fans. The team trains on the lush fields at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, cheered by road-trippers from Kansas City and locals who over the years have adopted the Chiefs as their own. Just as the Dodgers left Vero for Arizona, the Chiefs will move next summer to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., which of course makes the most sense for their hometown fans. But for Cheese League loyalists, it stings nonetheless.

1. Todd Haley is a screamer who reserves most of his wrath for wide receivers. Haley came up as a receivers coach with the Jets, Bears and Cowboys, and when he was hired as offensive coordinator in Arizona two years ago, he prodded Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin into arguably the best pass-catching duo in the NFL. Haley is now focused on Dwayne Bowe, a fearless and physical receiver who is capable of taking a Fitzgerald-sized leap, and Devard Darling, a speed demon who in five years has never quite fulfilled his potential. "Devard Darling is big, strong and fast," Haley said. "He has the skill set. He looks the part. Now he needs to start playing it. I don't want a yo-yo team, and I don't want yo-yo players." To ensure some consistency, the Chiefs signed veteran wide receiver Bobby Engram from Seattle, who will be a perfect teaching aid for Haley and an ideal model for Darling and Bowe to follow.

2. Larry Johnson claims he is content in Kansas City, but running behind the Chiefs offensive line could test his patience. The Chiefs are relying on three very veteran linemen -- Mike Goff, Damion McIntosh and Brian Waters -- all 10-year-plus veterans and seemingly past their primes. The Chiefs do have one young star on the offensive line, and fortunately for them, he is in charge of protecting new quarterback Matt Cassel's blind side. Branden Albert was a guard at the University of Virginia, switched to left tackle as a rookie last year, started on opening day despite missing the entire preseason and quickly emerged as one of the best young linemen in the league. Nimble and smart, Albert realizes there are concerns about the Chiefs' blocking, but insists he does not share them. "As a whole, we're going to get better," Albert said. "But it's easy to tell people that. We've got to prove it."

3. From 2006-2008, the Chiefs spent two first-round picks, a second-rounder and a third on defensive linemen who were geared to play a 4-3. Now the Chiefs are moving to a 3-4, and in April's draft, they spent yet another first- and third-round pick on defensive linemen. The Chiefs are trying to use all of these guys, even if some are better fits for the scheme than others. Tamba Hali and Turk McBride have switched from defensive end to linebacker. Glenn Dorsey has moved from defensive tackle to defensive end. Tank Tyler has gone from defensive tackle to nose tackle. All four linemen are being taken outside their comfort zone, an obvious risk for an organization that invested heavily in them not long ago. "You've got to adjust," Dorsey said. "If this is what they want, you've got to do it. I know it's going to be different, but I think it's going to work out."

The Chiefs made so many changes this offseason, it's surprising they kept the arrowhead. In addition to their new quarterback, new head coach, new staff and new front office led by new general manager Scott Pioli, their new defensive system prompted the acquisitions of new linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas. Vrabel and Thomas should help Hali and McBride make the transition to outside linebacker, while also showing incumbent middle linebackers Derrick Johnson and Weston Dacus some intricacies of the 3-4. Even if the Chiefs take time to learn the new defense, they desperately needed a jolt after recording only 10 sacks last year, the lowest single-season total in NFL history. "Things have changed a lot here and some guys might get stressed out about it," Dacus said. "But the majority is excited."

The Chiefs believe their first round pick, defensive end Tyson Jackson, is the perfect speed rusher for the 3-4. Jackson also happens to have gone to LSU, just like Kansas City first-round picks Dorsey (2008) and Bowe ('07). The Chiefs are actually the first team that has had three first-round picks from the same school in successive years. Jackson's college buddies might want to tell him to hurry up and get in camp. While he is still negotiating his contract, rookie defensive end Alex Magee is taking some of his reps with the first team and looking like he belongs. Magee, a tireless and explosive third-rounder from Purdue, was originally slotted to back up Jackson and Dorsey. But with Jackson holding out and Dorsey confined to a side field for extra conditioning, Magee has an opportunity to gain on them and so far is taking advantage of it.

With three defenders flying in front of him, tight end Sean Ryan made a nifty one-handed catch at the end of Monday morning's practice, prompting a rare shout-out from Haley in the press conference. The Chiefs didn't have to worry much about their tight ends for the past decade. But with Tony Gonzalez making his one-handed grabs in Atlanta now, the Chiefs are auditioning about a half-dozen candidates to replace him, including projected starter Brad Cottam, as well as Tony Curtis and Tom Crabtree. Ryan, a six-year vet who was with San Francisco last season, is in the mix, as well. If he keeps making one-handers in traffic, he could evoke a few memories of Gonzalez.

Crossing the border from Minnesota to Wisconsin, over the majestic St. Croix River, the first town you hit is Hudson, named because the original mayor likened the St. Croix to the Hudson River. On the main drag, you'll find Barker's Bar and Grill, a 1900 brick building with tin ceilings and an oak bar, where the motto is "A Bistro of a Tavern" and the bread is brought in daily from River Falls. Try the Silver Bison Burger -- raised in Baldwin -- and a Rush River Amber Ale to wash it down.

• Yes, the Chiefs were 2-14 last season, but they did come within six inches of sweeping Denver, lost two games to San Diego by a combined two points and lost in overtime to Tampa Bay after blowing a 21-point lead. Haley is unsympathetic. As the team ran sprints Saturday, one observer overheard him say: "Go through the motions and you'll be 2-14 again."

• Haley is in his first year with the Chiefs, but he knows the club's history. He wore a red Dallas Texans hat to practice Monday.

• Why were the Chiefs 2-14? They only have three players on the current roster that they drafted from 2001-2005: Larry Johnson, Derrick Johnson and punter Dustin Colquitt.

• The Chiefs media guide reports that Larry Johnson upholstered his Mercedes Benz G500 with throwback jerseys of NFL greats such as Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Marion Motley.

• Evidence of how River Falls has embraced the Chiefs: The Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile came to practice Monday, not as part of any promotion, but just because the driver had the day off.

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