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Looking ahead to training camp

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If there is such a thing as an off-season anymore in the NFL, this is it. The first wave of free agency and salary cap cuts is behind us. The draft is over and the Chiefs have signed 16 undrafted free agents. Mini camp is over, but who cares? Several veterans weren't there, others were excused because they're still on the mend, and many of the rookies weren't there either. The only event left before training camp is the June 1 salary cap cuts.

Ordinarily, the June 1 cuts wouldn't generate much more than mild interest. This year, however, some of the players that become available may have a huge impact on the 2002 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs. The team did a pretty good job of filling holes through the draft and free agency, but there are some big holes left that need to be plugged with new faces. Specifically, the help wanted sign is out for wide receivers, linebackers, and cornerbacks.

At wide receiver, there are 13 players competing for five or six jobs. Newcomer Johnnie Morton is guaranteed employment. Snoop Minnis (if his broken foot heals properly), Sylvester Morris (if his knee cooperates), and Eddie Kennison have the inside track on jobs. That leaves the remaining nine players fighting for one or two slots. That's a crowded situation, but the team is lacking experience. Expect the Chiefs to sign at least one veteran in early June who will end up winning a roster spot.

There are also 13 players competing for employment as linebackers. Unlike wide receiver, the problem here has nothing to do with experience. The problem, to put it bluntly, is quality and the release of Donnie Edwards only worsened the situation. Marvcus Patton still plays hard, but he's 35 and he has lost a step or two. Glenn Cadrez is a valuable reserve, but he's not someone you want as a starter. Lew Bush is adequate - barely. Hopefully, Mike Maslowski is totally healthy. The remaining players are a mixed bag of rookies, free agents, and younger players who have yet to show they can play. Additional bodies need to be brought in. I expect that this will be a problem area all season unless someone of quality becomes available in the June cuts.

"Dismal" is the word that immediately comes to mind when I look at the cornerback situation. Ray Crockett is 35 and has noticeably slowed down. The other starter, Eric Warfield, has the physical tools to excel but the potential has yet to be fulfilled. William Bartee is still raw. The other candidates are assorted castoffs and free agents. A "help wanted" sign isn't enough. Vermeil and Peterson need to order a blitz campaign of full-page newspaper ads, coupled with radio & TV spots, immediately. The improvement in the defensive line may put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to disguise the problems for a while, but cornerback will be the Achilles heel of the team unless help is found.

Optimism is a trait I admire. Incurable optimism, on the other hand, scares me. After reading Dick Vermeil's comments about Mini-camp, I'm not sure which he is. Maybe he's right about this team and I'm just being an old stick in the mud. Then again, remember how gushy he was last year at this time and how poorly the team performed during the regular season. One of us is due for a reality check.

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