Is the Chiefs offensive line, the traditional rock-solid foundation of one of the league's most potent attacks, starting to show the cracks of age?
There were times during the first week of Kansas City's Wisconsin training camp when that appeared to be the case. Especially when 10-time Pro Bowl right guard Will Shields wasn't practicing because of an arthritic back, or when 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf was working only once a day.
By the end of the first full week, when promising young right tackle Kevin Sampson was limping on a badly bruised big toe, and versatile veteran John Welbourn -- the probable right guard while Shields is down -- was down briefly after someone fell on leg, the Chiefs seemed to be patching holes faster than a riverfront town with a leaking levy after a weeklong rain.
It's only early August, of course, and the odds are that Kansas City's offensive line will be much healthier for the Sept. 11 opener with the Jets. Still, with Shields unable to practice as of Aug. 8, and knowing that Roaf will be playing at age 35 this year, the Chiefs line clearly is on the verge of a major transition that will start at the 2005 camp.
"I have a concern about Will Shields getting ready to go," admitted coach Dick Vermeil, who spent the entire spring session working without his three Pro Bowl linemen -- Shields and Roaf, who were excused from spring workouts to let their bodies heal, and left guard Brian Waters, who chose to spend the spring with his newborn child and family.
Kansas City's hope is that by bringing Shields back slowly from his back problem, he'll be at full speed come September.
"I like what I see," Vermeil said of Shields' conditioning work off the practice field. "He has a determination and an enthusiasm and confidence."
And Roaf likely will benefit from his once-daily workout schedule.
"I think working him once a day has helped him," Vermeil said. "He's having, to me, his best camp since I've been here."
-- KC defensive players have noted that Gunther Cunningham, who has made the turnaround of the Chiefs defense his quest for the Holy Grail, has gotten more personnel in his often profane demands of his players.
An example: After veteran Dexter McCleon dropped a possible interception in a 7-on-7 drill, Cunningham castigated him with "Catch the ball, Alphonso." That was a direct shot at rookie Alphonso Hodge, who has trouble hanging onto the ball.
Hodge got the point. Moments after practice ended, he was catching balls off the Jugs machine.
-- Coach Dick Vermeil clearly isn't happy that second-year player Junior Siavii, the team's top draft pick in 2004, has missed too many days of camp while dealing with tendinitis of the knees -- first the right, now the left.
"He could make the Pro Bowl Rehab team," Vermeil said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chiefs' once rock-solid offensive line is showing some cracks that are indications of aging in the early part of the team's Wisconsin training camp.
A continual reshuffling of personnel has accompanied the inability of 10-time Pro Bowl guard Will Shields to practice ever since he injured his arthritic back in the first camp workout on July 28.
Shields, who was given permission to miss the entire spring conditioning program while resting his sore body, is on a weight-lifting and back-strengthening program the Chiefs hope will have him back on the field sometime in the days leading up to or immediately following the Aug. 12 preseason opener in Minnesota.
-- Chris Bober, who played left guard and center for the Giants before filling in at right tackle for the Chiefs last year, began camp working at Shields' right guard spot. But Bober, who also is the backup for center Casey Wiegmann, didn't stay at right guard long.
-- John Welbourn, who himself missed the spring workouts while recovering from knee surgery, was moved to Shields right guard after the first week of camp. But Welbourn immediately had a short-term setback when a running back fell on his injured leg in a pile. He missed a couple of practices, but likely will start at right guard in the preseason opener against Minnesota.
-- Third-year linemen Brett Williams, who has played sparingly, worked briefly at the right guard position. But he was moved to right tackle briefly when Kevin Sampson, the second-year player tabbed as KC's starting right tackle, developed a bad bruise on a big toe and had to be sidelined briefly.
-- Jordan Black, the third-year player who filled the right tackle spot last year following injuries to Welbourn and Bober, has been playing most extensively at left tackle in the morning practice sessions that veteran Willie Roaf sits out.
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