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Things To Watch Out For In Training Camp

More by Ed Fulda
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With mini-camp just completed and training camp less than a month away, Dick Vermeil and his staff are probably buried neck deep in film canisters, player evaluation forms, empty aspirin bottles, etc. My guess is that they're going to remain that way for most of training camp as well. Although no one in the Chief's organization wants to say the "R" word, it's becoming obvious that rebuilding is exactly what the team is doing. No, it's not a rebuilding project of the same magnitude that Schottenheimer faced in 1989. Vermeil has more talent to work with, but there are too many question marks to expect the Chiefs to be serious playoff contenders this year - or next.

Tight End seems to be the only position where there are no worries. Tony Gonzalez is the best TE in the NFL. Jason Dunn is a good back up. There may be two or three players fighting for the third spot, but the winner will be decided by how well he plays on special teams.

The team was thin at Wide Receiver even before Sylvester Morris injured his ACL. His absence for the first part of the regular season exacerbates the situation. Either third year pro Larry Parker or rookie Snoop Minnis, who were the leading candidates for the third receiver slot, will have to rise to the occasion (big "if" number one). Tony Horne is an excellent kick returner, but has never produced as a receiver. Chris Thomas is an old vet who played for Vermeil in St. Louis and understands the offense. However, I expect the team to sign a veteran wideout (Derrick Mayes?) before training camp starts.

How do you replace two all-time greats and maintain a high level of play? That's the job facing Mike Solari as he rebuilds the Offensive Line. Center Casey Wiegmann is frontrunner for Tim Grunhard's old job. Marcus Spears will probably replace Dave Szott/Jeff Blackshear at LG. Counting on both these guys to come through is big "if" number two. Fortunately, Will Shields will return at RG. Victor Riley (assuming he stays out of jail) and John Tait are solid young tackles. Depth across the line will be thin.

Priest Holmes and Tony Richardson are fine as the starters at RB as long as Holmes stays healthy (big "if" number three). Depth is in the toilet, however. Mike Cloud has done little in his previous two seasons and may end up on the waiver wire quickly. Frank Moreau had his moments as a rookie, but fumbled the ball too often. If that doesn't change, he could join Cloud in the unemployment line. Rookies George Layne and Derrick Blaylock would have to be total busts to lose their roster spots. I can't believe that the Chiefs are satisfied with the situation, so expect a veteran free agent or two to be signed before camp starts.

The team replaced Elvis Grbac and Warren Moon with Trent Green and Bubby Brister. If Green is healthy (and that's big "if" number four), he should do a fine job leading the offense and should put up numbers comparable to Grbac's. Green is also a better leader than Elvis was. Bubby (Trivia Bonus: What is Bubby's real first name? The answer is at the bottom of the column.), has matured into a solid back up despite the goofy nickname. I don't understand what the team sees in Todd Collins, but someone has to carry the clipboard and he seems to do the job well.

The new punter, Dan Stryzinski, has the reputation of being a great directional kicker. His punts are virtually unreturnable. However, he does not have a powerful leg. The place kicker, Todd Peterson, doesn't have a powerful leg either. Which leads to an interesting question: Who is going to do the kickoffs? Regardless of the answer, kick coverage was dismal the last two years and immediate & dramatic improvement is needed (big "if" number five). At least there's a chance this could happen, as Mike Stock is finally gone.

KC had problems stopping the run last year even with Chester McGlockton in the lineup and in the mood to play. Chester and his indifferent attitude are gone (note to Bronco's fans: Don't look now, but you've been "Dale Cartered" again!) but Dan Williams, Jon Browning, and Steve Martin need to show that they can plug the middle better than Chester did ("if" number six). The defensive ends should be fine as long as they stay healthy (big "if" number seven). Don't expect to see rookies Eric Downing and Monty Beisel play much unless injuries decimate the line again.

The addition of Glenn Cadrez should help in two ways if he has anything left. First, Mike Maslowski can be moved back to the middle where he belongs. Second, Lew Bush can collect splinters from sitting on the bench where he belongs. Maslowski needs to start in the middle since Marvcus Patton is starting to slip noticeably. Donnie Edwards needs to be turned loose to do what he does best - create havoc. Gary Stills needs to do something - anything - positive. Richard Jordan, Andre O'Neal, and Larry Atkins will provide depth of a sort.

Finally, we get to the defensive secondary; the potential Achilles' heel of the team. Ray Crockett is a savvy old pro, but will he provide the same level of leadership that James Hasty did? Cornerbacks William Bartee, Pat Dennis, and Eric Warfield need to show marked improvement (big, big "if" number eight). Fortunately, the starting safeties are excellent and Jason Belser will be a quality back up. As with other positions on the team, there is little depth.

Given the number of "ifs" facing the team, it's simply not realistic to expect the team to finish with anything more than an 8-8 record. That's a record I can live with as long as all 16 games don't end up in a shootout. If the defense doesn't gel and mature during the season, however, there won't be anything to cheer about during the 2002 season either.

By the way, Bubby's real first name is Walter.

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