Chiefs Skinny: Mitchell Pushing Maslowski?

Kansas City may not be playing exactly the same personnel hand they've used in the past two seasons when they couldn't stop anybody.

There may be some subtle lineup changes, depending on the development of younger player and the return from injury of some established ones.

Middle linebacker Mike Maslowski, a starter the past two seasons, is returning from a second operation on the same knee in a four-year period. The job is his right now, but second-year MLB Kawika Mitchell will be pushing him hard.

The trouble is, Mitchell played with little distinction as a rookie starter when replacing Maz for the final six games of the '03 campaign. Fact is, a lot of people thought special teams standout Monty Beisel might have done better as Maslowski's substitute.

At cornerback, Eric Warfield and Dexter McCleon head into camp as the clear-cut returning starters. But Warfield is returning from back surgery that limited his effectiveness late in the '03 season, and McCleon isn't exactly a kid anymore (he'll turn 31 this season).

There's no proven depth behind them, though. Nickel corner William Bartee, in fact, could get a challenge for his job from second-year man Julian Battle, who could become a player if his performance level ever matches his defiant, somewhat cocky attitude -- something you like to see in a young corner.

Spots in the defensive tackle rotation also are up for grabs.

John Browning and still-emerging youngster Ryan Sims are the starters. Veteran newcomer Lional Dalton, trying to salvage his career after lackluster campaigns at Denver and Washington, had a strong spring and made the best bid to be the third man in the rotation.

First-round draft choice Junior Siavii is assured a roster spot. That doesn't leave much room for anyone other inside linemen returning from last year's depth chart, meaning Eric Downing and Eddie Freeman are in jeopardy.

Two Chiefs who entered the NFL as long shots are in contention for ESPY Awards.

Running back Priest Holmes, an undrafted player coming out of Texas, is nominated for "Best NFL Player" after setting the league record for single-season touchdowns with 27 last year. This marks the second time Holmes has been nominated in the past three years. He also was nominated after leading the league in rushing in 2001.

Returner Dante Hall is up for "Best Play" category for his start-stop, direction-changing, game-winning 93-yard punt return against Denver. It was Hall's fourth kick-return touchdown in a fourth-straight game, and it came in Kansas City's fifth game of the season. Seven NFL players now have four kick-return TDs, but no one had them in four straight games.

The frustration of Hall's memorable '04 season is that he came close several times, but never got the record-setting fifth return TD. A big fan of ESPN's football highlights, winning an ESPY would mean more to him than the modest, unassuming Holmes.

Hall's competition includes the New Orleans Saints' multiple-lateral touchdown play. Also nominated are St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds for a backhanded leaping catch and Lakers guard Derek Fisher for his buzzer-beater basket in a playoff game against the Spurs.

The awards, which will be selected strictly on fan voting, will be presented in Hollywood on Sunday, July 18.

"You can't get better talking about it. If you are not good in a specific area in football, you can get on the field and get better, but it takes more time, it takes more reps, it takes more weight training, it takes more running. If you begrudge the fact that you are working and accept work as punishment, you don't get out of it, what you should get out of it. Our guys know that hard work pays off." -- Dick Vermeil, on his players buying into -- however reluctantly -- his work ethic and includes some of the longest practice sessions in the league. Top Stories