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Cheifs Chatter

Chiefs Chatter

 

Ready for (Julian) Battle

Second year corner is pushing for a starting job

Posted 8/3/04

by Frank Pagnotti

When the Chiefs took Julian Battle with the 92nd pick of the 2004 NFL draft, they didn’t know how long it would take him to turn into a quality NFL cornerback.

Turns out, it might only take one season.

Despite it being in the early stages of training camp, Battle is already pushing 2003 starters, Dexter McCleon and Eric Warfield for their starting cornerback positions.

“Battle has a real shot to take either corner’s job, I mean he’s a competitive player,” head coach Dick Vermeil said after last Friday’s morning practice.

Competition will no doubt make this secondary stronger, especially at cornerback. While the Chiefs have dependable starters at safety, cornerback has been a position that has plagued the defense since they released James Hasty back in 2001.

The Chiefs search to replace Hasty began with veteran Ray Crockett in 2001, and then shifted to William Bartee in 2002, but neither materialized into solid contributors like they had hoped. Crockett’s age and declining skills prevented him from stabilizing the position, and Bartee struggled with his ball awareness skills when he was the starter.

The Chiefs appeared to find a solution at cornerback when they signed McCleon away from the Rams last year. He fared much better than the previous two starters - racking up 5 interceptions and 55 tackles - but the problem is that he is a much better in zone coverage than in press coverage and press coverage is something that will be a fixture of the Chiefs defense this season.

The only constant at cornerback since Hasty retired has been Warfield. His play has been inconsistent at best since he signed a lucrative seven-year contract back in 2002. That has continued early on in training camp. One practice he will look great, the next he will constantly get beaten by opposing receivers.

While Warfield’s play has been inconsistent, Battle has stepped up. He made a great play in practice on Thursday when he ran stride for stride with receiver Marc Boerigter and knocked the ball out of his hands after he appeared to make the catch.

Great plays like that show why Battle has the potential to make a difference in the Chiefs secondary. He brings a rare combination of size and blazing speed to the cornerback position, which are two qualities the Chiefs haven’t had since they lost Dale Carter to the Broncos in 1999.

The comparisons between Carter and Battle, who are both former Tennessee Volunteers, have already begun. Despite the similarities in speed, size, and swagger, Battle isn’t going to get caught up in that discussion.

“I’m not going to compare myself to Dale Carter, yet,” Battle said. “I haven’t even started one game. It would be crazy for me to compare myself to him.”

Maybe those comparisons are a tad crazy right now, but that just shows how starved the Chiefs are for a consistent presence at cornerback. If these comparisons eventually turn out to be accurate, the Chiefs should cross their fingers and hope that Battle can become like the Carter who went to four Pro Bowls, and not the one that has gotten into loads of trouble off the field.

If he can, the Chiefs never-ending search to replace James Hasty will finally be over.

(Frank Pagnotti covers the Kansas City Chiefs. He can be reached at FPagnotti@aol.com)