Draft Picks in Hand Chiefs Head to River Falls

Kansas City will start training camp on June 28 with its entire draft class intact for the second straight season, and the third time in the last four years.

Within a three-day period, the Chiefs signed their top two picks, players who both figure to get more than a passing measure of playing time in 2004. A few days later, they signed their last two picks with six days to spare to the opening of camp.

Defensive tackle Junior Siavii of Oregon, a second-round selection whom the Chiefs traded down to get with the 36th overall pick of the draft, agreed to a six-year contract on July 21.

That signing came just days after Kansas City signed Kris Wilson, a tight end from Pittsburgh who gives the Chiefs their best H-back prospect in years.

Kansas City then completed its rookie pool on July 23 by signing three-year contracts with wide receiver Sammie Parker of Oregon and defensive end Jared Allen, who impressed coaches during spring workouts. Both were fourth-round selections.

Getting Siavii in camp on time was especially important to the Chiefs. He and Parker missed most of the spring sessions because of the NCAA rule prohibiting players from joining their NFL teams will spring classes were in session back on campus. Missing further time in training camp would have been a major setback.

Especially for Siavii, whom the Chiefs believe can help immediately as a backup in the defensive tackle rotation. The big 340-pounder may be a work-in-progress for a year, maybe two, but at least he won't all but forfeit his first training camp while awaiting the negotiation of his first contract -- a situation that set back fellow DT Ryan Sims two years ago.

The Chiefs were a little concerned when Siavii's weight ballooned to above 350 pounds during the spring. They now seem satisfied that he'll report to camp at somewhere just under 340. They believe he can play effectively at up to 335.

Parker also needed to be in camp on time after he, too, was forced to miss most of the spring coaching sessions. The speedster has a real shot at a No. 5 spot in the KC receiving corps.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES:
A considerable amount of business-world attention is focused on Kansas City and the lawsuit against General Motors filed by the family of Derrick Thomas.

Thomas died from complications resulting from the paralysis he incurred in a roll-over accident in his 1999 Chevrolet Suburban on Jan. 23, 2000. Attorneys representing Edith Morgan, Thomas' mother, and the five mothers of his seven children contend that a design flaw, a structural weakness in the SUV's roof, allowed the roof to collapse and break Thomas' neck.

GM attorneys contend that Thomas was at fault for speeding on an icy highway and causing the accident that resulted in the SUV rolling three times. They also contend that Thomas' paralysis resulted from his ejection from the vehicle, which they say might not have happened had Thomas been wearing a seat belt.

One other man, a long-time friend of Thomas', also was ejected from the car and died at the scene. A third passenger who was belted in the vehicle's back seat escaped serious injury.

The lawyer representing Thomas' family, Michael Piuze of Los Angeles, recently won an $18 million settlement against GM in another case involving a crushed-roof accident.

Thomas' mother previously settled out of court suits against the dealership that sold Thomas the Suburban and the emergency medical personnel who attended him.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Hopefully he can help give us the rotation support where the quality of play doesn't drop much from what the starter provided. We're not going to put any more pressure on him than that. We're not going to put the pressure on him we put on Ryan (Sims) a couple of years ago because we now have more depth and quality." Coach Dick Vermeil, on what the Chiefs will expect from top draft choice Junior Siavii -- like Sims, a highly touted defensive tackle -- in his rookie season.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK:
Starter -- Trent Green. Backups -- Todd Collins, Damon Huard.

Green is coming off a productive spring after being voted the team MVP and making his first Pro Bowl appearance after a third straight year of taking every meaningful snap and completing his finest season. KC's offense broke the team scoring record (set in 2002) by totaling 484 points. Green's club record 63 percent throwing accuracy with 24 TDs against only 12 interceptions was a key factor. His 92.6 QB rating was fourth-best in the league. Collins spent a sixth straight year without seeing significant activity. How he might effectively fill in for Green remains an unknown. Huard played in 16 games for Miami and New England and made five starts for Miami in 1999.

RUNNING BACKS:
Starters -- HB Priest Holmes, FB Tony Richardson. Reserves -- RB Derrick Blaylock, RB Larry Johnson, FB Omar Easy.

People who thought Holmes' career was in jeopardy after a serious hip injury cut his '02 season short by two games were wrong. Holmes shook off premature reports of his demise to score an NFL single-season record 27 touchdowns and winning a third straight Pro Bowl berth. His yards-from-scrimmage total (2,110) was down slightly in '03, but his ability to find the end zone was a major reason the Chiefs failed on only one red-zone opportunity in the regular-season. Despite early-season concerns about limiting his workload, Holmes remained the team's workhorse with 320 carries and team-high 74 receptions. Fullback Richardson, one of the league's best blocking backs, won his first Pro Bowl designation after staying healthy for the first time in two years. Blaylock held the little-used No. 2 spot behind Holmes, but that spot is in jeopardy this year after Larry Johnson -- the No. 1 pick of '03 who spent most of his rookie season in a self-inflicted funk over his lack of playing time -- made a determined bid to move up during spring workouts.

TIGHT ENDS:
Starter -- Tony Gonzalez. Reserves -- Jason Dunn, Billy Baber, Kris Wilson (rookie).

Gonzalez fought through a revealed sore knee and an undisclosed stress fracture in his ankle to record 45 of his 71 catches and six of his 10 TDs in the season's second-half. The Chiefs are hoping this year's emphasis on enforcing the illegal contact rule will hold down the holding Gonzalez battles and give him a better chance to get open. Despite all the grabbing, he still led all AFC tight ends in receptions. Dunn remains one of the best blocking tight ends in the game, and the Chiefs often use him and Gonzalez in two-tight formations. Rookie Wilson is an interesting guy -- a wideout's ability to get downfield in a tight end's body. He will give coordinator Al Saunders more H-back options in time -- maybe even his rookie season.

WIDE RECEIVERS:
Starters -- FL Eddie Kennison, SE Johnnie Morton. Backups -- Dante Hall, Marc Boerigter, Chris Horn, LaShaun Ward, Sammie Parker (rookie).

A group in need of upgrading, but improvement will have to come from within as Kansas City made no offseason personnel additions other than the drafting of Oregon speedster Parker in the fourth round. When last seen in action in the 38-31 playoff loss to Indianapolis, KC's receivers had five drops to stall drives in a game in which the Chiefs were forced to score on every possession. Morton moved back to the X position he played so well at Detroit and increased his catch count from 29 to 50 catches, but his too-frequent drops were inexplicable for a veteran receiver. Kennison had 56 catches in an equally unspectacular campaign. The explosive Hall still dreams of becoming the breakaway threat in regular offense that he is in the return game. KC's No. 3 receiver caught 11 balls against Denver but only 29 the rest of the year. Boerigter's second NFL season was a classic case of sophomore slump. After scoring 8 TDs on just 22 catches as a rookie, he had almost as many drops as receptions (11). He'll wear a contact lens in one eye this year in the hope of improving his focus, if not his concentration.

OFFENSIVE LINE:
Starters -- LT Will Roaf. LG Brian Waters, C Casey Wiegmann, RG Will Shields, RT John Welbourn. Reserves -- G-C Chris Bober, C-G Don Willis, G Darnell Alford, T Brett Williams, G Jordan Black.

Despite the free agent loss of Tait to Chicago, this unit still should be one of the league's top blocking/protection units. Welbourn, acquired in a draft-day trade he demanded from the Eagles, is the leading candidate to move from Philadelphia's left guard spot to Tait's vacant position. Bober, primarily a center with the Giants, will be his top competition as young Williams never got on the game-day active list as a rookie last year. The line's incredible string of 33 straight games intact may be over, but things remain bright. Roaf never had a lot of speed, and at 33 he's lost some of what he had. But his wits and wiles more than compensate, as when he shut out Indy's Dwight Freeney in the playoffs. Shields remains a master technician at age 32. Can still pull and lead sweeps almost as effectively as ever, as reflected in his ninth Pro Bowl selection (the same number as Roaf). Wiegmann might be headed for Hawaii after his two more honored line teammates retire. Waters is getting better every year in making the transition from the defensive end and tight end spots he played in college and in his early years in the league. Athletic skills usually make up for what he lacks in technique.

DEFENSIVE LINE:
Starters -- LE Eric Hicks, LT John Browning, NT Ryan Sims, RE Vonnie Holliday. Reserves -- DT Lional Dalton, DT Junior Siavii, DE R-Kal Truluck, DE Gary Stills, DE Jimmy Wilkerson; DT Eddie Freeman, DT Eric Downing, DT Montique Sharpe, DE Jared Allen (rookie).

The Chiefs wanted to keep this group intact despite a dreadful No. 30 ranking against the rush. Why? KC was gashed for 159 or more rushing yards in eight games, and for 200-plus in four. Yet Browning was re-signed before becoming a free agent, and Hicks signed shortly after the market opened. Missed assignments and getting physically over-matched at times were a big problem in run defense, and Hicks and Sims exchanged angry words over the assignment issue after a late-season kicking in Minnesota. Front-four pass rush was minimal, yet somehow KC got 36 sacks. Holliday, in his first season in KC, started the year with three sacks in the opener against San Diego, then had only 2.5 more the rest of the year. Dalton, a one-time hot prospect on Baltimore's Super Bowl defense, had an impressive spring after failing to impress in two seasons at Denver and Washington. He knows this is likely his last chance. Siavii, KC's first draft pick this year, has potential as a run stuffer, but it's likely too much to ask him to be a difference-maker as a rookie. Truluck and Stills show potential as edge rushers with speed, but they remain candidates to be overpowered physically and must be used mainly in pass-rush situations. Wilkerson showed flash and promise as a rookie, but reserves as a whole lacked distinction.

LINEBACKERS:
Starters -- LOB Scott Fujita, MLB Mike Maslowski, ROB Shawn Barber. Reserves -- MLB Kawika Mitchell, MLB Monty Beisel, OB Fred Jones, OB Quinton Caver, OB Keyaron Fox (rookie).

Maslowski's incumbency in the middle may be challenged after undergoing a second operation on the same knee in a four-year period. The trouble is, Mitchell showed little in the six games in which he replaced Maz as a rookie starter last year. Time to give special teams standout Beisel a shot in the middle, perhaps? Barber was supposed to be the team's biggest defensive upgrade last year after arriving via free agency from Philadelphia's No. 2 defense, but he missed too many tackles and wasn't a disruptive factor in opposing backfields as was hoped. Maybe it was the scheme, maybe not. Fujita took a major step up in his second season and led the team in tackles (110 solos, 151 total, 4 sacks), and he'll keep getting better as his coverage skills improve.

DEFENSIVE BACKS:
LCB Eric Warfield, SS Greg Wesley, FS Jerome Woods, RCB Dexter McCleon. Reserves -- CB William Bartee, CB Julian Battle, S Shaunard Harts, S Lyle West, CB Cliff Crosby.

McCleon, the last of Kansas City's three defensive additions in 2003, made the biggest impact with six interceptions and generally solid play all season. Warfield battled a sore back that required offseason surgery to have a decent year, but he was burned badly when Cincy's Peter Warrick beat him for a 77-yard TD that sealed the Chiefs first loss after a 9-0 start. Warfield should be ready for training camp, but his return may be guarded initially. Wesley, re-signed before being allowed to test free agency, returned to solid form -- six picks and 121 tackles -- possibly because his backfield buddy also returned. Woods missed the '01 campaign with a broken leg, and Wesley tried unsuccessfully to pick up his slack. Reunited, Woods earned his first Pro Bowl bid after returning two picks for TDs. Kansas City's ability to re-sign him shortly after he entered free agency was one of the team's few offseason coups. The Chiefs weren't awful in pass defense (20th), but the secondary was asked to cover too long because of a woeful pass rush. Bartee was injured in camp and lost his starting job to McCleon. Battle simply wasn't ready to play as a rookie cover man, but he may push Bartee for the nickel job in his second season. Harts is a capable safety who had his moments when Woods was down a year ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Returner -- Dante Hall. Kicker -- Morten Andersen, Lawrence Tynes. Punter -- Jason Baker, Rodney Williams.

Hall finished the year disappointed that he didn't get the NFL record-setting fifth kick-return touchdown that seemed so likely after getting scores in four straight games within the season's first five -- an unprecedented accomplishment. He had to settle for one in the playoff loss to Indy. But even when not scoring game-winning touchdowns like he did on returns against Baltimore and Denver, he was still recording big returns -- several of them just one tackler short of going the distance -- that consistently gave the KC offense prime field position. His 16.3-yard punt return average and two TDs led the league. Andersen showed his age (43 last year), especially late in the season when the Chiefs hesitated to try anything from 40-plus, from which Andersen was he was 5-of-9 this year. He missed a 31-yarder in the playoff loss to Indy when the Chiefs needed every point possible. Baker's punter job is in jeopardy after averaging only 39.5 -- 26th in the league -- and Kansas City brought in second-year man Rodney Williams to push him in camp.


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