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Coogs
08-10-2005, 09:34 AM
RIVER FALLS, Wis. - (KRT) - The notion was nothing new to Dick Vermeil, not after he spent the last two weeks watching the Kansas City Chiefs' revamped group of linebackers.

He still couldn't help but marvel after practice Tuesday about the differences a year makes.

"We've never had three at a time that can move collectively like they can move," Vermeil said, referring to starting linebackers Derrick Johnson, Kawika Mitchell and Kendrell Bell. "We really haven't seen Kendrell Bell. We hope he can move like we thought he could when we brought him here. We haven't turned him loose yet. Sooner or later, we've got to turn him loose and find out if he can move like the other guys do. We know he used to be able to do it."

The Chiefs have been cautious with Bell at training camp because of nagging injuries, but they are showing no serious concern that he won't be ready for the regular season.

Perhaps that's because an injury at linebacker is no longer a cause for panic. An invasion of young players the last two seasons is bearing fruit. This year, the Chiefs added rookies Johnson, Boomer Grigsby and Kris Griffin. Last year, it was Keyaron Fox and Rich Scanlon.

Johnson will start, and the other four are strong candidates to make the team.

As a result, the Chiefs might carry eight linebackers - and former starter Scott Fujita could find it difficult to claim a roster spot. Gary Stills, a valuable special-teams player but a liability at linebacker, may also get squeezed out.

The crunch will get even tighter when Shawn Barber, another former starter, returns from a knee injury later in the season.

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham wanted better athletes at linebacker, and now he has them.

"We've got five linebackers now we can play in our nickel defense," Cunningham said, referring to Bell, Johnson, Mitchell, Griffin and Fox. "When I was with Tennessee, we had one or two, and we had some pretty good defenses. Hopefully, we'll be able to cover tight ends and backs."

Even though Johnson arrived at camp almost a week late because of contract negotiations, he has been the Chiefs' best defensive player. Rare is the practice when he fails to make at least one standout play.

Johnson was responsible for covering wide receiver Jeris McIntyre on a play in Tuesday morning's practice. The 240-pound Johnson stayed with the 200-pound McIntyre stride for stride for 30 yards and intercepted the pass with an over-the-shoulder grab as he headed down the field.

The Chiefs have tried to downplay Johnson's contributions, but Vermeil at times can't control himself.

"When you can move like he can move, there's no limitation to what he can do," Vermeil said. "That's why he was a No. 1 pick. I don't know how long it will take him, but he's going to be one of the premier football players in the league defensively.

"We haven't played a game yet. But just watch what he does on the practice field and watch his ability to diagnose, quickly react, and flash into plays and bend his knees and strike. The only thing he doesn't have is experience."

While Johnson was a first-round draft pick, Griffin joined the Chiefs by far different means. He was undrafted from tiny Indiana (Pa.) University.

But almost from the day he joined the Chiefs, Griffin invited comparisons to Johnson. He's about 10 pounds lighter than Johnson and moves almost as well. Practice observers have more than once confused the two because they are both outside linebackers and their jersey numbers are similar_Johnson wears 56, and Griffin is 66.

"I hear that every now and then," Griffin said of comparisons to Johnson. "We've got the same body type. We're not the same player. He's a great player. But I think I've shown I can play."

Grigsby, who has been backing up Mitchell in the middle, also comes from a small-college background at Illinois State. That's why the Chiefs are eager to see both players on a much bigger stage in Friday night's preseason opener at Minnesota.

"It's going to be a different experience to line up against somebody with the thought in your head of trying to crush him," Grigsby said. "Trying to play really hard without leaving your feet or hurting anybody like we do at practice makes you more reserved.

"This is the best of the best. I'm looking forward to playing some linebacker against those guys and busting some heads on special teams."

Of the rookie linebackers, only Johnson figures to play a lot on defense. Griffin and Grigsby will be special-teams regulars but could claim starting jobs down the line.

"I don't think any of our linebackers necessarily need to be resting on their laurels, because we've got more depth at that position than I've ever witnessed on a football team," Chiefs vice president of football operations Lynn Stiles said. "We've got Griffin. We've got Grigsby. We've got Scanlon. And don't forget we're going to get Shawn Barber back at some time. He's a pretty good football player, too."

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews...ts/12344149.htm

Mr. Laz
08-10-2005, 12:31 PM
it will be interesting to see what happens against the vikes.

with live contact i would imagine guys like boomer and bell will look better and guys like mitchell and derrick johnson might slide back.

ROYC75
08-10-2005, 12:40 PM
Bell isn't playing ..........

milkman
08-10-2005, 12:46 PM
As a result, the Chiefs might carry eight linebackers - and former starter Scott Fujita could find it difficult to claim a roster spot. Gary Stills, a valuable special-teams player but a liability at linebacker, may also get squeezed out.

I was saying this about Stills earlier in the offseason, but after TC reports about Special Teams, I have my doubts about cutting Stills in favor of one of the young guys.

We need the talent at LB, but STs play is a vital part of any game, and it doesn't sound like any of the young guys is ready to step into Stills' shoes on the STs unit.

Chiefs Pantalones
08-10-2005, 12:49 PM
Bell most likely isn't playing vs. the Vikings.

milkman
08-10-2005, 12:50 PM
Bell isn't playing ..........

You know, this may not be a bad thing.

We all pretty much know what kind of player Bell is, and getting Fox out there against the Vikes first unit will give us a chance to get a glimpse of Fox's growth and potential.

Mecca
08-10-2005, 01:42 PM
If Fox and Griffin can show they can be good special teams LB's, I think it's very possible that Stills and Fujita become expendable.

Lzen
08-10-2005, 03:08 PM
"It's going to be a different experience to line up against somebody with the thought in your head of trying to crush him," Grigsby said. "Trying to play really hard without leaving your feet or hurting anybody like we do at practice makes you more reserved.

"This is the best of the best. I'm looking forward to playing some linebacker against those guys and busting some heads on special teams."

Man, I love this guy. :thumb: Friday can't get here soon enough. :banghead:

stevieray
08-10-2005, 03:43 PM
I bet at least one of our releases ends up in Oakland.