Dick Vermeil wants his players to think like champions in this, the third season of his three-year program to turn around the Kansas City Chiefs.
"They've earned the right to believe they're going to be good," said Vermeil, whose Chiefs improved from 6-10 to 8-8 last year when they had the NFL's highest-scoring offense.
Remember, good things often happen in Year Three of Vermeil tenures. After a long absence from post-season play, his Philadelphia Eagles returned to the playoffs in 1978, his third season there, before reaching the Super Bowl two years later. And in 1999 his St. Louis Rams rebounded from 5-11 and 4-12 campaigns to win the league championship.
Consequently, expectations are high for the third and final season of Vermeil's contract with the Chiefs, who talked him out of retirement following the '99 Super Bowl campaign with the Rams.
"All the pieces are in place," linebacker Shawn Barber, Kansas City's prime offseason acquisition, told the Kansas City Star. "Dick Vermeil has gone from introducing his program the first year to watching it grow the second year to the point where the car runs by itself now.
"This is the year where he can sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor."
Vermeil's labors will be greatly reduced if Priest Holmes returns from a Dec. 15 hip injury that sidelined him for the season's final two games and left the Chiefs' offense limping as badly as their prized running back.
Holmes touched the ball on 39.6 percent of Kansas City's 965 total offensive plays last year and produced 38 percent percent (2,287) of 6,000 total yards. If he isn't fully recovered from the slow-healing hip injury that kept him out of the team's offseason conditioning program, Holmes' void will be difficult to fill and the Chiefs' offensive production will be hard pressed to match last year's No. 1 ranking in scoring (29 points a game) and No. 4 in total offense (375 yards a game).
Then again, maybe the Chiefs won't have to score that many points or run up that many yards in 2003.
Maybe the Kansas City will realize the fruits of offseason labors to improve a defense that ranked dead last in total defense (yielding 390 yards a game) and 28th in scoring defense (25 points a game). Maybe the additions of linebacker Shawn Barber, end Vonnie Holliday and cornerback Dexter McCleon, along with the return from injury of veteran safety Jerome Woods and promising young tackle Ryan Sims, will provide the pieces of the puzzle that can return the Chiefs to the defensive prominence it knew during the 1990s when a struggling offense usually kept the Chiefs from advancing deeper into the post-season.
But in Vermeil's third year, there is reason to believe that an already solid offense, coupled with what should be an improved defense, should take the Chiefs at least as far as the playoffs, where they haven't been since 1997. If they can win a playoff game or two, something they haven't done since 1993, they might even talk Vermeil into sticking around for a Year Four.
CAMP CALENDAR: The Chiefs left Kansas City as a group and arrived at their camp at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls on Saturday July 19. Their first of two-a-day workouts began on Sunday. Family Fun Night is set for Friday, July 25. They have two days of joint workouts scheduled with the Minnesota Vikings, who will make the two-hour journey from their Mankato, Minn., camp on July 30 and 31. They break camp and return to Kansas City on Aug. 15.