Not only was Andre Rison's attendance at meetings perfect in the
preseason, but the Chiefs' new wideout also remained awake
during them. What's up with that? What has become of the
malcontent who emerged as a game-breaker for the Falcons early
in his eight-year NFL career while also becoming notorious for
blowing off meetings, popping off at coaches and, when his
girlfriend burned down his house in a lovers' quarrel,
redefining the term domestic dispute.
There's been no sign of that bad apple during Rison's brief
tenure with Kansas City, his fifth NFL team in four years. "Our
evening meeting is over at 10 p.m.," says receivers coach Al
Saunders. "Typically, Andre stays late to watch extra film. No
one has worked harder, on or off the field. He's been exemplary."
Despite Rison's reputation, the Chiefs were willing to roll the
dice, signing him to a two-year, $2 million contract in June,
three months after he had been released by the Packers. Last
season the Chiefs averaged only 18.6 points a game and in their
final five games had just five pass plays that covered 20 or
more yards. So after missing the playoffs for the first time in
seven years, coach Marty Schottenheimer vowed to make his
offense more "point productive." Apparently he also vowed to use
the word chunks at least once in every third sentence. As in his
assessment of Rison: "He makes yardage in chunks, big chunks."
Running under passes thrown by new quarterback Elvis Grbac,
Rison, who caught only six touchdowns in his last two seasons,
is looking forward to a big comeback. The addition of Rison and
former Lion Brett Perriman--they have combined for 1,069
catches, 13,944 yards and 95 touchdowns in their NFL
careers--makes wide receiver the Chiefs' second-most-improved
Kansas City is most improved at tight end, a position that,
according to Schottenheimer, "creates opportunities to make
yardage in chunks." (May we suggest an official candy bar for
the '97 Chiefs: Chunky). Since blocking tight end Derrick Walker
is basically a tackle with a receiver's number, the team traded
up in the first round of the draft to take Cal tight end Tony
Gonzalez, a terrific athlete who was also a starting forward on
the Golden Bears' basketball team. (After a spectacular,
one-handed catch during a preseason game against the Panthers,
Gonzalez said, "It was like going for a rebound. I knew I
couldn't catch it clean, so I tipped it to myself.") Kansas City
also signed former 49ers reserve tight end Ted Popson, who had
an impressive preseason. It helps that he was a San Francisco
teammate of Grbac, who says, "I know his every move."
Grbac will not have to be great to be an improvement over his
predecessor. Steve Bono completed only 53.7% of his passes last
season, a pathetic figure considering the Chiefs run the West
Coast offense, which is built on high-percentage passes. Nor was
Bono much of a leader. By showing up for all of the team's
off-season conditioning workouts, which started in late March
and ran through June, Grbac quickly distinguished himself from
Bono, whose reluctance to attend those workouts in previous
seasons had created dissension.
"He's got the emotional makeup of a leader," says offensive
coordinator Paul Hackett of this latest former San Francisco
quarterback now starting for Kansas City. "He just needs to
play." After serving primarily as Steve Young's clipboard caddie
for four years, Grbac reached the same conclusion. "I got sick
of it," he says. "I wanted to be the starter."
What was it like, seeing spot duty, knowing no matter how well
he played, the clipboard awaited? Says Grbac, "It's like taking
a bite of an apple, then giving it away."
He says "bite." His boss would say "chunk."
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Tamarick Vanover will figure not only in the Chiefs' passing game but also as a specialist returning punts and kickoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 9-7 (second in AFC West)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 125.6 (4) 180.6 (26) 306.2 (22)
DEFENSE 104.1 (13) 221.1 (22) 325.3 (18)
A Nose for the Ball
Cornerback James Hasty, a 10-year veteran, is the only active
player with at least 20 interceptions and 20 fumble recoveries.
But he doesn't just fall on those loose footballs; he also ranks
third in league history in fumble-return yardage.
Active Players with at NFL Career Leaders
Least 12 Interceptions and In Fumble-Return Yards
12 Fumble Recoveries
'97 Team Int. Recov. Career Recov. Yds.
James Hasty, Chuck Howley,
Chiefs 27 20 1958-73 17 191
Kevin Ross, Larry Wilson,
Chiefs 38 15 1960-73 12 173
Eugene Robinson, James Hasty,
Packers 48 14 1988-present 20 172
Albert Lewis, Toby Wright,
Raiders 40 13 1994-present 2 171
Cris Dishman, Paul Krause,
Redskins 31 12 1964-79 17 169
The Chiefs bolted to a 4-0 start in '96, then hit the wall,
losing four of their last five games and missing the playoffs
for the first time since '89. How Kansas City handles its first
six games--at Denver, at Oakland, Buffalo, at Carolina, Seattle
and at Miami--may tell us if last season's collapse was the
start of a downward cycle.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 2
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .547
Games against playoff teams: 7
The Lineup With 1996 Statistics
Coach: Marty Schottenheimer
QB Elvis Grbac[*] 197 att. 122 comp. 61.9% 1,236 yds.
8 TDs 10 int. 72.2 rtg.
RB Greg Hill 135 att. 645 yds. 4.8 avg. 3 rec.
60 yds. 20.0 avg. 5 TDs
FB Kimble Anders 54 att. 201 yds. 3.7 avg. 60 rec.
529 yds. 8.8 avg. 4 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Brett Perriman[*] 94 rec. 1,021 yds. 5 TDs
WR Andre Rison[*] 47 rec. 593 yds. 3 TDs
WR Lake Dawson 5 rec. 83 yds. 1 TD
TE Derrick Walker 9 rec. 73 yds. 1 TD
PK Pete Stoyanovich 34/34 PATs 17/24 FGs 85 pts.
KR Tamarick Vanover 33 ret. 25.9 avg. 1 TD
PR Tamarick Vanover 17 ret. 6.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Jeff Criswell 6'7" 294 lbs. 15 games 5 starts
LG Dave Szott 6'4" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Tim Grunhard 6'2" 299 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Will Shields 6'3" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Trezelle Jenkins 6'7" 323 lbs. 6 games 0 starts
LE Vaughn Booker 35 tackles 1 sack
NT Joe Phillips 27 tackles 2 sacks
RE John Browning 21 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Derrick Thomas 55 tackles 13 sacks
ILB Terry Wooden[*] 57 tackles 1 int.
ILB Tracy Simien 76 tackles 1 int.
OLB Anthony Davis 71 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
CB Dale Carter 51 tackles 3 int.
SS Kevin Ross[*] 78 tackles 2 int.
FS Jerome Woods 6 tackles 0 int.
CB James Hasty 43 tackles 0 int.
P Louie Aguiar 88 punts 41.7 avg.