Whether he was dropping back to pass or simply sauntering around
the Chiefs' Wisconsin-River Falls campus during training camp,
quarterback Trent Green wore an elastic sleeve on his delicate
left knee. The black piece of elastic served as a reminder that
while Kansas City has high expectations for Green's right arm,
the Chiefs' chances for success this season depend as much on how
his knee holds up.
Green, acquired in an April trade with the Rams, is supposed to
be the charismatic leader that his predecessor, Elvis Grbac,
wasn't during his four seasons in Kansas City. However, Green's
health--he has undergone four operations on the knee since tearing
his ACL and MCL in August 1999--remains a question mark. During
two-a-days he usually practiced in the morning and split his
afternoon sessions between rehabbing and work on the field.
"Dealing with the knee gets real old," Green says, "but I knew it
would be a struggle to overcome the injury because I did a lot of
damage. The thing that helped was being able to play in St. Louis
last year. I saw that I could still perform at a high level."
While filling in for an injured Kurt Warner for eight games,
Green rang up a passer rating of 101.8, good enough to lead the
NFC for the season, but his two-year stay in St. Louis was
bittersweet. Green, not Warner, was supposed to be the star
there. Now new Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, who brought Green to
the Rams as a free agent before the 1999 season only to see him
go down in a preseason game against the Chargers, is giving him
Green's knowledge of the offense--he spent six years in similar
systems with the Redskins and the Rams--enabled him to miss
practice without hurting his development. "Right now he's more
like the player he was before he got hurt," says Vermeil, who sat
out last year before taking the K.C. job in the wake of the
firing of Gunther Cunningham following a 7-9 season. "I can see
he has his confidence back, and the players see that it's his
team. They expect him to make plays."
Green's best weapons are Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, who
had 93 receptions in 2000, and running back Priest Holmes, a
free-agent pickup from the Ravens whose running and receiving
abilities fit the wide-open system the Chiefs will employ. Beyond
those two, however, weaknesses abound. The most worrisome
position is wide receiver. Second-year man Sylvester Morris, who
caught 48 passes for 678 yards and three touchdowns last season,
is out for the year after tearing the ACL in his right knee
during a June minicamp. Derrick Alexander had a career-high 78
receptions last year, but the coaching staff is concerned he may
lack the burst to separate from defensive backs. The most
promising receiver is rookie Marvin (Snoop) Minnis, a third-round
draft pick out of Florida State who showed in camp that he can
create space. He'll battle for time in the multiple-receiver sets
with Derrick Mayes, Chris Thomas and Larry Parker. Mayes caught a
career-high 62 passes with the Seahawks in '99. Thomas has only
32 grabs in five seasons, and Parker, a fourth-round draft
selection in 1999, has three career receptions.
"What we have to do is get the five best-skilled guys on the
field who can score points," says offensive coordinator Al
Saunders, who spent the past two seasons as the Rams' wideouts
coach. "In St. Louis four of those guys were wide receivers. But
it really doesn't matter what position they play as long as they
can get the ball in the end zone."
While Vermeil tries to straighten out the offense, he has to hope
new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson can improve things on the
other side of the ball. That won't be easy. Defensively, the
Chiefs led the league in a dubious category: highest completion
percentage allowed (65.2). Robinson loves to blitz, but he
inherits a secondary long on suspect cornerbacks.
If the offense comes together, Robinson's job will be easier. His
defense was adequate during his six seasons with the Broncos, who
won the Super Bowl twice during that span; of course, Denver
could outscore anybody. That's where Green comes in. He's not
concerned that his limited practice time will affect his
leadership role, either. Among other things he rented a luxury
box at a Royals game and hosted 25 teammates. Given that Grbac,
who was waived in March and signed a lucrative free-agent deal
with the Ravens, threw a party last year that drew only a couple
of Chiefs, Green is off to a good start.
"The guys see I'm committed and that I want us to be together,"
he says. "I want guys to like each other. Because when that
happens, I know we'll want to win for each other."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Already the best tight end in the game, Gonzalez should see even more balls in K.C.'s new attack.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO CROCKETT
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Chiefs
"They've had a complete change, so it's hard to know how good
they'll be....They controlled the ball last year, but now
they're going to be more wide open. That will be hard because in
St. Louis that offense revolved around the wide receivers, and
the Chiefs have already lost Sylvester Morris to injury....If
they do play a lot of three-wide receiver packages, that leaves
Tony Richardson on the bench. I think he's their third-best
offensive player....Tony Gonzalez will still put up big numbers.
He'll be the most reliable target, and this system has been good
for tight ends....People talk a lot about Trent Green, but
remember, he's only started 19 games. With his experience level
and that knee, I don't know if he'll hold up behind their line.
Can Marcus Spears pass-protect? How good is Casey Wiegmann? Those
are big questions....The strength of the defense is probably in
the line, but the Chiefs weren't that good against the run last
year. I do like their defensive ends. Eric Hicks is relentless
and he'll play hurt, and Duane Clemons is a capable pass rusher.
But they also need a healthy Dan Williams....They have issues in
the secondary. Ray Crockett can't get hurt. He's lost a step,
too, and that's a problem for a guy who tries to make a lot of
big plays. Whoever they put at the other cornerback--Eric Warfield
or William Bartee--has to improve. [Defensive coordinator] Greg
Robinson likes to play a lot of eight-man fronts, so we'll see if
those corners can play on an island."
Sept. 9 OAKLAND
16 at Seattle
23 N.Y. GIANTS
30 at Washington
Oct. 7 at Denver
21 at Arizona
Nov. 4 at San Diego
11 at N.Y. Jets
18 Open date
29 PHILADELPHIA (Thurs.)
Dec. 9 at Oakland
23 SAN DIEGO
30 at Jacksonville
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 12
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .504
Games against playoff teams: 7
with 2000 statistics
COACH: Dick Vermeil; first season with Kansas City (76-73 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 7-9 (third in AFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 25/5/8; defense 17/20/18
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Trent Green[N] 32 240 att. 145 comp. 60.4% 2,063 yds.
16 TDs 5 int. 101.8 rtg.
RB Priest Holmes[N] 65 137 att. 588 yds. 4.3 avg. 32 rec.
221 yds. 6.9 avg. 2 TDs
RB Mike Cloud 305 30 att. 84 yds. 2.8 avg. 2 rec.
16 yds. 8.0 avg. 1 TD
FB Tony Richardson 99 147 att. 697 yds. 4.7 avg. 58 rec.
468 yds. 8.1 avg. 6 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Derrick Alexander 24 78 rec. 1,391 yds. 10 TDs
WR Marvin Minnis(R)[N] 137 63 rec. 1,340 yds. 11 TDs
WR Chris Thomas[N] 275 no receptions in 2000
TE Tony Gonzalez 21 93 rec. 1,203 yds. 9 TDs
K Todd Peterson 247 25/25 XPs 15/20 FGs 70 pts.
PR Dante Hall 359 6 ret. 6.2 avg. 0 TDs
KR Tony Horne[N] 217 57 ret. 24.2 avg. 1 TD
LT John Tait 6'6" 316 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Marcus Spears 6'4" 316 lbs. 13 games 0 starts
C Casey Wiegmann[N] 6'2" 285 lbs. 16 games 10 starts
RG Will Shields 6'3" 311 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Victor Riley 6'5" 328 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Eric Hicks 45 tackles 14 sacks
LT John Browning 48 tackles 6 sacks
NT Dan Williams 35 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
RE Duane Clemons 55 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
OLB Lew Bush 32 tackles 1 sack
MLB Marvcus Patton 111 tackles 1 sack
OLB Donnie Edwards 132 tackles 1 sack
CB Ray Crockett[N] 45 tackles 4 int.
SS Greg Wesley 87 tackles 2 int.
FS Jerome Woods 81 tackles 2 int.
CB Eric Warfield 26 tackles 0 int.
P Dan Stryzinski[N] 84 punts 41.0 avg.
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"People talk a lot about Green, but remember, he's only started