View Full Version : Merrill: Cornerbacks’ camaraderie overcomes competition

08-05-2005, 01:38 AM

Cornerbacks’ camaraderie overcomes competition


The Kansas City Star

RIVER FALLS, Wis. — They stood in their practice gear earlier this summer, four free agents, 43 years of chasing receivers. If their careers were over then, Ashley Ambrose was going to be OK. He’d play with his two kids. He’d slide into a TV job in Atlanta.

Dewayne Washington wasn’t ready for it to be over. He’d been through three NFL cities and one painful winter cut, but Washington still had life. His legs were fresh, his purpose was clear. He had to nail his tryout with the Chiefs.

The stopwatch clicked, all four cornerbacks showed, as Ambrose put it, that they still “had it.” He turned to Washington, whom he’d only known by the back of his jersey.

“You know?” Ambrose said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if two of us wind up coming here.”

Never underestimate the power of cornerback camaraderie. Ambrose and Washington are the two out of that foursome at the Chiefs’ training camp. Only one of them figures to be around for opening day, and suddenly, they’ve become fast friends. They planned a haircut and golf together on their day off Thursday.

After their first few practices, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was praising their leadership.

“Not only do they give you a little more security as a coach,” Cunningham said, “but they’re really, really helping the young guys out there.”

But this is possibly it for one of the corners, as Ambrose will be 35 this September and Washington is 32. Help the younger guys, and Ambrose and Washington may very well be helping them snatch away their job.

Ambrose says it’s the only way cornerbacks do it.

They both had their mentors, veteran secondary men who taught them the little things. Ambrose had Eugene Daniel to guide him through his rookie year in Indianapolis. Washington had Carnell Lake in Pittsburgh.

Ambrose has played with the Colts, Bengals, Falcons and Saints, logging 42 interceptions over 13 seasons. Washington, who’s on his fourth NFL team, is using his 12 years to help rookie Alphonso Hodge. He tells Hodge that as long as he has his techniques down, he’ll be fine.

“These are the guys who are going to be in this league after we’re done,” Ambrose said. “We want them to succeed, and we want this team to succeed.”

The team didn’t know much about Ambrose or Washington until late June, when the Chiefs lost Julian Battle to a season-ending Achilles’ injury. In a scramble for depth, or maybe even a starter, they arranged a tryout with Ambrose, Washington, Terrance Shaw and Aaron Beasley.

They signed Ambrose to a one-year contract in early July and then picked up Washington just before training camp.

Coach Dick Vermeil said the decision was simple — the Chiefs had an extra locker and a spot on the 91-man roster, and Washington wasn’t going to cost them much. A former first-round draft pick with the Vikings, Washington would have gone anywhere, winner or loser, because he just wants to play. He had a tryout with the 49ers before the Chiefs called.

Ambrose was picky. He told his agent not to bother him unless a team with Super Bowl possibilities was interested.

“I feel like I’ve reached a lot of goals in my career,” Ambrose said. “The only thing I have to do now is try to get a Super Bowl ring.”

They’ve been to the AFC championship, they’ve won and lost position battles, they’ve logged in 367 games collectively.

“They have seen a lot, and they know a lot,” cornerback Eric Warfield said.

So far, the team has refrained from calling the new guys old guys. There’s too much respect. The average person wouldn’t understand it, Washington said, the cornerbacks’ unspoken bond. You know they’re the last line of defense. You want them to be successful.

Washington says it’s the toughest position on the field. And it’s even tougher this training camp. Somebody will inevitably lose a new friend.

“We’ve played a career,” Washington said. “We all know the averages, the 2, 2½ years. We’re still gonna be cool with each other because we’ve played a long time. At some point in your life, you’ve got to be able to move on.”

08-05-2005, 07:40 AM
I really miss Ivan Carter. :(