06-22-2005, 08:21 AM
your not going to miss anything by not reading them. Some of us will read anything Chiefs related:
Rick Dean: http://www.810whb.com/scripts/archives/getStory.asp?article=10374
Hall & Caver in Springfield: http://www.news-leader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050622/SPORTS0304/506220374/1096
06-22-2005, 10:12 AM
surprised there isn't 5 of these on the front page
edit: It's been available for 3 hours & I post it at the same time as someone else ROFL
GRETZ: Off-Season Look: Defense
Jun 22, 2005, 8:16:32 AM by Bob Gretz (http://www.kcchiefs.com/news/bob_gretz/)
It can be seen in his eyes, on his face, and in the way he walked to practice each day. Gunther Cunningham is tired, very tired. He’s not quite exhausted, but he’s in the same zip code.
It has been six months of intense work for the Chiefs defensive coordinator. It has tested his abilities as a coach, teacher, administrator, talent evaluator, psychologist and coordinator. No stone was left unturned on how the team approaches defense. That’s what happens when you are trying to change a culture.
As the off-season program comes to an end this week with a few more days of work with the rookies and first-year players, Cunningham can see clearly ahead of him a few weeks on the rocky coast of Maine. And behind him, he can see a world of hard work by a lot of people that has improved the Chiefs defense.
“I looked at this as going through stages,” Cunningham said. “The first stage was the personnel stage, when we went out and found some players to plug into what we are doing here. That went very well. We found some talented guys.
“The second stage was the off-season work, to see how the new guys and the returning players got after what we wanted, not only on the field, but in the classroom. It was also a time to see how the staff got after things. That’s gone well.
“Now, I can’t wait until the third stage. That will come when we put the pads on and get to work in camp.”
Evaluating a defense after 15 practices (12 in OTA, three in mini-camp) where pads were not worn and hitting was not allowed is folly. Even in this day of high-tech football, stopping the other guy is still largely about being physical, hitting him in the face, play-after-play. Nobody knows that more than Cunningham.
Yet there’s no ignoring this fact: there’s a different face on the Chiefs defense right now. It’s a nastier face. It’s a quicker, faster and more athletic face. Progress has been made in changing the culture back to what Cunningham helped maintain in the 1990s, when the Chiefs were one of the most stifling and best “big play” defenses in the league.
Takeaways are being stressed, as is putting pressure on the quarterback. Players and coaches are paying attention.
There’s a lot of road that must yet be traveled, and how the Chiefs defense handles a few of the detours along the way will ultimately reveal their strengths and weaknesses.
“Given our circumstances, I think we’ve done what’s possible to date,” said Cunningham. “We must continue that type of approach once we get to camp. We’ve had a lot of guys make a lot of progress. That can’t stop now.”
Checking out the Chiefs defensive roster position by position, here’s where Cunningham has seen improvement.
DEFENSIVE LINE: This is a big season for Ryan Sims. He must establish himself in the middle of the Chiefs defense as the sixth player taken in the draft. To date, he’s been mediocre. “We’ve worked very hard with Ryan, very hard on his footwork,” said Cunningham. “He has to get better.”
One player on the line who has gotten better is last year’s top choice Junior Siavii. “He came back and picked up where he left off at the end of last season,” said Cunningham. “He’s coming, if he keeps working, I’m not sure who will be the starter at left tackle, but he’ll be a factor.”
Last year’s rookie sensation DE Jared Allen began the off-season in Cunningham’s doghouse. “It’s tough sometimes for you guys to understand that what they did last year isn’t going to be good enough this year,” Cunningham said. “We had a few heart to heart talks and he’s come to understand that. He’s really gotten better over the last half of the OTAs.”
Part of the personnel infusion in the off-season was DE Carlos Hall, acquired in a trade from Tennessee.
“I saw him pass rushing during the mini-camp against Willie Roaf and I liked what I saw,” said Cunningham. “He’s still learning how to rush the passer. I think we have something there.”
LINEBACKER: “I’ve gone from thinking I didn’t have any linebackers who could play, to the group we have now in one year,” said Cunningham. “We’ve made a lot of progress.”
So far, the biggest name addition from the off-season, Kendrell Bell has slowly worked his way into the intricacies of the defense. “He’s going to be fine,” said Cunningham. “He’s so intense, sometimes he scares me. He’s going to be a major, major factor in what we do.”
No. 1 draft choice Derrick Johnson has been very visible and shown he can be a playmaker in this defense. “You’d have to be a blind man not to see what’s happening out there with him,” said Cunningham.
Maybe the two most improved players on the team in this off-season have been Kawika Mitchell and Keyaron Fox. These two young linebackers continually have turned up in the middle of plays.
“Through the first half of the OTAs, Keyaron Fox was the best player on the field,” said Cunningham. “It’s been a long off-season with Kawika. We had a lot of talks. I called him at his home. I’m sure there were times when he wanted to kill me.
“But it’s paid off on the field.”
DEFENSIVE BACK: By his own admission, CB Patrick Surtain is not yet comfortable with the Chiefs defense. “I love what Gunther wants to do, it’s in your face defense and that’s what every guy wants to play,” Surtain said. “I’m still trying to learn it all, make the right decisions out there. I’ll get there.”
Cunningham has no doubts. “It’s like he told the crowd during the open practice at Arrowhead,” the defensive coordinator said. “It’s not what’s on paper right now; it’s what’s on the field on September 11th against the New York Jets.
“He’ll be fine.”
But the Chiefs are not fine at cornerback. Eric Warfield is headed for a suspension to start the season, which could be as few as two games, or as many as four games. At a critical point of the season, they are going to be short-handed. Right now, with Julian Battle lost to an Achilles’ tendon injury, it figures that Dexter McCleon will be the starter opposite Surtain. And McCleon, recovering from off-season surgery, has been unable to practice throughout the practice sessions.
“Everyone else is going to have to help carry some of the water,” said Cunningham.
Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs add a veteran face on the corner before the start of training camp. They’ll look at a number of players over the next few weeks. The pickings are slim and former Patriots CB Ty Law is likely going to be too expensive if he’s recovered from his foot injury.
During the spring practices, the defense would always begin with a skull session, where the defense would walkthrough their reactions to different offensive formations. Cunningham would quiz various players about how the defense should handle individual situations. Some players would know, some would guess, others would freeze under Cunningham’s glare.
One player always knew the right answer: S Sammy Knight.
“If I was a player, I would want to be Sammy Knight,” said Cunningham. “He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s prepared and he’ll hit you.”
His presence has also made Greg Wesley a better player. After a sub-par 2004, Wesley has taken up the challenge that came with the signing of Knight. There’s no doubt he’ll be in the starting lineup. “I told him the other day, ‘Welcome back Greg’,” Cunningham said. “He’s really back to the guy I remember when we drafted him.”
For the next few weeks, Cunningham will enjoy some time with his family, maybe sleep in a few days and just try to gear down. Two parts of the work are done. More is ahead.
The work is never done when you are trying to change a culture.
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