Chiefs' Breaston Getting Along Fine in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY (AP) - Todd Haley doesn't mince words when he talks about his relationship with wide receiver Steve Breaston, whom he coached when both were with the Arizona Cardinals.
"I tried to break him," he said simply.
Breaston didn't mince words, either, when asked about being reunited with Haley after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs at the beginning of training camp. He called his coach a butthead - or something along those lines - in an interview with a local radio station.
Of course, both of them spoke with a dose of good humor.
Breaston was picked by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, about the same time Haley was taking over as their offensive coordinator. He had been a standout at Michigan, but was considered a project in the NFL in part because of his slight stature - he stands 6-1 but weighs just 175 pounds.
It so happens that Haley's roots are in coaching receivers, a job he held for a decade with the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. So he had a pretty good benchmark upon which to examine Breaston, and what Haley found was someone who could run every route and catch every pass, but had never been pushed hard enough to bring out the best in him.
"I said, 'This guy, I don't know. I think there's a chance but he's a long way off,'" Haley said. "And you just quickly realized as a coach, for whatever reason, this kid responded. He wasn't shying away from any kind of push, prod, pull, push."
Haley pressed him in team meetings. He barked at him on the practice field. Even in the hallways of the Cardinals' practice facility, everywhere he went, Breaston had Haley in his ear.
Breaston only caught eight passes his rookie season, using his speed primarily as a kick and punt returner. But he blossomed in his second year, catching a career-high 77 passes for more than 1,000 yards and helping Arizona to a winning record for the first time in a decade.
The Cardinals went all the way to the Super Bowl, where they lost 27-23 to Pittsburgh.
"He called me a yo-yo," Breaston said, holding his hand high and then dropping it low. "Don't be here one day and here the next. He always wanted me to be consistent, and I take that now as being accountable, and just getting to the point where your teammates can trust you."
Haley left after that inspired playoff run to take over a rebuilding job in Kansas City, and Breaston's play immediately began to regress. He caught 55 passes for 712 yards two years ago and just 47 passes for 718 yards last season, when he was hobbled by a knee injury.
When he came available in free agency, Haley was quick to sign his former pet project, envisioning Breaston as a slot receiver who could complement breakout star Dwayne Bowe and first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin. He hoped that Breaston could give quarterback Matt Cassel somebody equally adept at crossing the middle and stretching the field from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone.
"He wasn't good enough early on, just from a standpoint of going out and being ready to play," Haley said. "He came back through the offseason and you could tell he had a chip on his shoulder. And again, that's where I say as a coach, 'I don't expect you to want to be my friend, just respect me in the end,' and that's a great testament to the fact, here a guy wants to come back and be coached and pushed and see how good he can be, and that's exciting stuff for a coach."
Sure, Breaston didn't exactly refer to Haley in a flattering tone on the radio. But his comment was said in jest, and Breaston is quick to point how much Haley meant to his development as a player.
"He knows the whole story," Breaston said. "I'm here, though, you know what I'm saying? Because I think he's one of those people who pushed me to be where I am."
An injury to Baldwin during a reported locker room altercation with running back Thomas Jones last week has only increased the value that Breaston brings to the Chiefs. Baldwin is not expected back soon.
Breaston has also been banged up in training camp, and missed practice Tuesday with his right calf wrapped. He only has one catch for five yards through the first two preseason games, and it's unclear whether he'll play in Friday night's game against the St. Louis Rams.
Haley appears unconcerned, though, because he knows what Breaston can do. He doesn't have a whole lot to prove during training camp with the Chiefs, even though he's a newcomer.
He already proved it to Haley in Arizona.
"Todd was one of those coaches, he got in your face, really pushed you," Breaston said. "He was the voice you didn't want to hear. You were tired and he was on you, pushing you past the limit of just settling. You can't be sensitive around him. It's hard coaching, but you understand he wants the best out of you. He wants you to be the best player you can be."