on training camp visit
on the menu in River Falls
The 2004 Kansas City Chiefs will likely return 21 of
22 starters from last years team that finished 13-3. However,
while there was very little roster turnover, the makeup
of this team is completely different from last year.
Gunther Cunningham replaced Greg Robinson back as the
Chiefs defensive coordinator in the January and has brought
back the fiery attitude that he was his trademark back
when he was with the Chiefs from 1995-2000.
Attitude was something that Robinson never preached.
Defense was like a chess game for Robinson - he would
wait until an opponent made a move before he would react.
Cunningham, on the other hand, wants to smack the opponent
in the mouth before they have a chance to pick up their
That aggressive type of behavior has stuck out the most
during the few days I attended Chiefs training camp in
River Falls, Wisconsin.
This camp has shown a calmer Cunningham. This really
isnt your fathers Gunther Cunningham. Gone
are the trademark yellow glasses, foul mouth, and the
huge dip of tobacco in his lower lip. He has even has
delegated more authority to his assistant coaches, something
that Cunningham couldnt do when he was a head coach.
He isnt even the biggest screamer on the field
in training camp. That distinction now goes to linebackers
coach Fred Pagac.
Dont mistake calmness for weakness though. This
defense has just as much attitude as Cunninghams
defenses had in the past and attitude is 90% of football.
The defense folded against top-scoring offenses last
year such as the Vikings and the Broncos. However, early
on in this camp the defense is standing up to the NFLs
top scoring offense. They are getting physical more physical
than Olivia Newton John and showing the attitude that
Its too early to tell during the early stages of
training camp if the Chiefs defense can do a complete
turnaround from last year and field a top 10 defense.
But they are certainly on their way.
Here are some players that have caught my eye during
my time at training camp:
DE Eric Hicks- No one has missed Cunningham more
than Hicks. He had a 14-sack season under Cunningham in
2000, but only has accumulated 17.5 sacks since. He looks
a lot quicker off the edge, and has added some new pass
rush moves to his arsenal that has stifled any lineman
that has tried to block him. Hicks looks a lot closer
to the player he was in 2000 rather than the mediocre
one he was for the last three years.
DT Junior Siavii- Siavii was the Chiefs top draft
choice in 2004. Coaches expected him to be raw and take
a while to be a presence on the defensive line. However,
Siavii has other plans for the 2004 season. He has been
a force on the d-line, creating havoc against anyone who
blocks him - just ask backup center Chris Bober. Bober
was trying to guard him during 7 on 7 drills and Siavii
threw him right on his back during one run play. Cunningham
even said that Siavii has made some plays that he hasnt
seen since he coached Chester McGlockton. Thats
a pretty big compliment considering how high he was on
QB Trent Green- Green threw for over 4,000 yards
last season and 24 touchdowns last year, but Dick Vermeil
expects those numbers to be even better in 2004. Judging
by the way Green looks during training camp; Vermeils
prediction is right on target. Green is displaying pinpoint
accuracy and a better deep this year. That additional
arm strength can be attributed to the added muscle he
has put on in the off-season.
RB Larry Johnson- I was Johnsons harshest
critic last year, but he has even shut my mouth this training
camp. He looks stronger, faster, and more confident entering
his second season. He is hitting the hole much faster,
and even has displayed incredibly soft hands in passing
drills. He should end up being the #2 running back behind
Priest Holmes this season.
LB Scott Fujita- Fujita has been the best linebacker
in camp. He has really warmed up to the coaching of Fred
Pagac, and looks faster and stronger. He has also been
really exceptional in coverage drills. Next to Hicks,
Fujita looks to be the one who has benefited the most
from Cunninghams arrival.
RB Priest Holmes- Theres not a whole lot
Holmes can improve on coming off his 27-touchdown performance
last year. However, he looks a lot faster and wants more
long runs this season. That can be attributed to the fact
that his hip injury is finally 100% healed.
OT Kevin Sampson- Its looking like Sampson
may turn out to be one of the steals of the 2004 draft.
During pass rush drills on Saturday, Sampson completely
dominated R-Kal Truluck, who is one of the fastest pass
rushers on the Chiefs roster. Dont be surprised
if he becomes one of the top reserves on the line during
his rookie season. He has come a long way in just a short
amount of time.
DT Eric Downing- Much like Siavii, Downing has
been a space eater for the defensive line during camp.
He looks quicker, bigger and faster this year over his
last three seasons with the Chiefs. He was once considered
a player on the bubble, but if his play early in training
camp is any indication, then he should easily make the
regular season roster.
TE Kris Wilson- Wilson has silenced a lot of critics
with his play early on in training camp. He has incredible
hands, displays good speed, and is a surprisingly a good
blocker. Wilson has been a pleasant surprise because I
questioned why the Chiefs would use a second round pick
on another tight end. He is going to create a lot of match
up problems for defenses when the Chiefs have him and
Tony Gonzalez on the field.
Now for the players who need to step up:
CB Eric Warfield- Warfield has been a Jekyll and
Hyde-type player this training camp. One day he looks
great, the next he looks awful - which has been his problem
his whole career. Warfield needs to find some consistency
to keep his starting job as Vermeil has said that Julian
Battle is competing for his job.
OT John Welbourn- Welbourn was acquired in a draft
day trade with the Eagles and is expected to fill the
void left by John Tait. Welbourn has been working as the
first team in camp, but his pass blocking has to improve
for him to make Chief fans forget about Tait. He has shown
his signature mean streak during run plays, but he has
looked flat in his pass blocking. He is going to have
to improve that area if the Chiefs line doesnt expect
to miss a beat.
K Morten Andersen- It was reported that Andersen
reported to camp in great shape; but his play on the field
doesnt show it. He has missed several field goal
attempts, and his leg doesnt look strong at all.
He is a liability from 40 yards and out, and the Chiefs
might be better served to go with Lawrence Tynes, who
has a displayed, a very strong leg. Its going to
be interesting to see how this position shakes out. Smart
money is on Andersen winning the competition, but the
Chiefs finally may be tired of punting outside of 45 yards.
FS Jerome Woods- I was waiting for Woods to stand
out on defense considering how he thrived in Cunninghams
system earlier in his career. However, that never happened.
He was out of place several times in pass coverage, which
reminded me of his play last year despite being voted
in to the Pro Bowl. Woods was one of the biggest advocates
of Cunningham returning; now he has to stop playing like
he is still in Robinsons system.
Heres how I expect the 53-man roster to shake out:
Quarterbacks- (3) *Trent Green, Todd Collins,
Running Backs- (4) *Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson,
Derrick Blaylock, *Tony Richardson
Wide Receivers- (6) *Johnnie Morton, *Eddie Kennison,
Dante Hall, Samie Parker, Marc Boerigter, Richard Smith
Tight Ends- (3) *Tony Gonzalez, Jason Dunn, Kris
Offensive Tackles- (4) Willie Roaf, John Welbourn,
Brett Williams, Kevin Sampson
Guards- (4) *Will Shields, *Brian Waters, Jordan
Black, Donald Willis
Centers- (2) *Casey Wiegmann, Chris Bober
Defensive ends- (5) *Eric Hicks, *Vonnie Holliday,
Gary Stills, Jimmy Wilkerson, Jared Allen
Defensive Tackles- (5) *Ryan Sims, *John Browning,
Junior Siavii, Lional Dalton, Eric Downing
Linebackers- (6) *Scott Fujita, *Shawn Barber,*
Mike Maslowski, Kawika Mitchell, Keyaron Fox, Monty Beisel
Cornerbacks- (5) *Eric Warfield, *Dexter McCleon,
Julian Battle, William Bartee, Cliff Crosby
Safeties- (3) *Jerome Woods, *Greg Wesley, Shaunard
Special teams- (3) Morten Andersen, Jason Baker,
* Indicates projected starter
This roster shouldnt come as much of a surprise
to anyone as its roughly the same one that the Chiefs
fielded in 2003.
The one good thing about keeping the same roster is that
the Chiefs and their fans are finally going to see if
it was truly the talent, or if it was the coordinator
that has made this defense the laughing stock of the NFL.
Some feel that the Chiefs dont have enough defensive
talent for Cunningham to work with. They say he doesnt
have that dominant pass rusher like the late Derrick Thomas,
or a shutdown cornerback like a James Hasty or Dale Carter
to make his defense work.
What would Cunningham say to those detractors?
Im going to say the same thing to them that
I did in 97, he said. They told me all the
stars were gone (in 1997) - I said turn around because
all the new ones are coming.
I just believe in the players and they know that.
As long as they can understand where Im coming from,
they will play, and play well.
Ill bet that Gunther turns out to have the last
laugh after the 2004 season.
(Frank Pagnotti covers the Kansas
City Chiefs. He can be reached at FPagnotti@aol.com)