KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -When Tony Gonzalez says the rebuilding Kansas City Chiefs might surprise everyone, even the people who love him most start rolling their eyes.
``My own family - they're like, 'Yeah, right, whatever,''' the nine-time Pro Bowl selection said. ``But we're a lot better team than last year. I'm telling you, these young guys can play.''
With all due respect to one of the game's great tight ends, it's hard not to be skeptical.
Gone from a defense that struggled is Pro Bowl end Jared Allen, who led the NFL in sacks but demanded a trade and is now chasing quarterbacks for Minnesota.
The Chiefs are also learning an entirely new offense and going with a quarterback who's never won a regular-season game.
If that's not enough, the roster is laced with inexperienced players. At such key positions as cornerback and left tackle, rookie starters are learning on the fly.
Behind those youngsters lurk more youngsters. As many as 10 of the 12 players drafted could survive the final cutdown during the first phase of Herm Edwards' out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new grand plan.
He and Tony Dungy made it work in Tampa Bay. With time, Edwards insists, it'll work in Kansas City.
``We anticipated that our team might look like this,'' the third-year head coach said. ``To me, it's kind of refreshing, because that's the direction we've got to take. The young players know they're expected to play and play well.''
Following their worst season in 30 years, the Chiefs fired their offensive coordinator and brought in former Dallas coach Chan Gailey. With an eye toward simplification, he installed a new offense that does seem to suit quarterback Brodie Croyle much better than the complex scheme Trent Green ran for Dick Vermeil from 2001-05.
An offensive line that gave up a league-high 55 sacks has been almost entirely retooled.
Most significantly, the Chiefs have discarded the overall approach they had clung to since Carl Peterson became general manager in 1989.
Generally favoring experience over youth, Peterson resisted wholesale change, preferring to patch a hole here and plaster a crack there and avoid the 12- and 13-loss seasons that usually accompany top-to-bottom rebuilding efforts.
It worked fairly well, too. But then last year, the aging Chiefs finished 4-12, ending with a nine-game losing streak.
Edwards pleaded for permission to blow it up and start over, just as he and Dungy had done in building Tampa Bay into a Super Bowl contender. Owner Clark Hunt gave his blessing, and a new day dawned in K.C.
``Obviously, the goal will be to make the playoffs,'' Hunt said. ``But it's a young football team and we're going to have to take the growing pains that you have with a young football team.''
Two rookie first-round draft choices will be counted on heavily. Branden Albert will be the starting left tackle, even though he played guard most of his college career. Glenn Dorsey, the fifth overall selection, will start at defensive tackle.
Rookie Brandon Flowers, a second-round pick from Virginia Tech, will start at cornerback. Rookie DaJuan Morgan could unseat a veteran at one safety position. Another rookie, Will Franklin, will see plenty of action at wide receiver.
Coaches are hoping 11-year cornerback Patrick Surtain has one more good year left. If he doesn't, Edwards might set rivals' hearts aflutter by playing three rookies in the secondary.
Surrounded by all this inexperience, the coach promises a supply of patience that will be generous but not bottomless.
``What they've got to realize is that just because you're a young player, you don't get a get-out-of-jail card where you can make a bunch of mistakes and it's forgiven,'' he said. ``We did this in Tampa.''
However the team's fortunes turn out, there is no doubt that the 32-year-old Gonzalez remains one of football's elite athletes. Owner of NFL tight end records with 820 catches and 66 touchdown receptions, Gonzalez was cited this summer by both President Bush and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama for quick action that saved a man from choking. When he adds 179 yards receiving, he'll become the most productive tight end in NFL history.
Larry Johnson missed the last eight games of 2007 with a broken foot, but is again running with the same energy and anger that put him in the Pro Bowl following 1,700-yard rushing seasons in 2005 and '06.
In the early going, he also seemed to be getting decent blocking behind a revamped line that includes first-year starter Rudy Niswanger at center.
``People doubting this offensive line because they're new shouldn't,'' Johnson said. ``They need to start giving these guys some credit.''
An effective running game will be crucial to take pressure off Croyle. The third-year pro got battered behind last year's leaky line and went 0-6 as a starter with six interceptions and six TDs.
``When the head coach and everyone is on your side and they say it's your job and they don't go out and draft a quarterback, they don't even go out and try to get a veteran, it kind of gives you confidence,'' he said.
Replacing Allen at defensive end is Tamba Hali, who was moved from left to the right side. And while fans have worried about how he'll make up for Allen's league-leading 15 1/2 sacks, they might also wonder how defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will recover the 7 1/2 Hali had on the other side.
``Glenn Dorsey is going to make a huge difference,'' Hali said. ``He's a beast. We're definitely going to improve. We're coming along.''

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