Warpaint Illustrated Top 10: River Falls Week One

Though it's been less than a week some things have stuck out during the Chiefs training camp in River Falls. As the team prepares for its scrimmage against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend, here are 10 things that have stood out thus far in River Falls.

1. Dick Vermeil spent part of Monday glowing about the play of 7th round draft pick Kevin Sampson. The Syracuse Offensive Tackle has been impressive in training camp thus far and Vermeil believes they might have found a sleeper tackle late in the draft that could add quality depth to the offensive line.

"He's a good football player. He's learning. He's a little nasty too; I like that," says Vermeil. "I think Chuck Cook (director of college scouting) and Lynn Stiles (vp of player personnel) could have a gem right there. I really do. We've got a lot of mountains to climb, but he's been impressive."

Sampson was one of the first draft picks to sign and has been a workout warrior. He's shown nimble feet and tremendous body leverage. Many of the Chiefs defensive ends have struggled when going up against Sampson in training camp.

He's not going to start this year but he could be the eventual replacement for Willie Roaf at left tackle when he retires in a year or two.

2. Priest Holmes looks like and is practicing like he's in regular season form. One year removed from the hip injury that slowed him down in 2003; Holmes is at full speed and certainly is showing the special qualities that make him the best back in the NFL. After setting the touchdown record last season, Holmes has his eyes set on the NFL rushing record.

There was a report in NFL.com that Holmes flirted with retirement in the off-season but was talked into coming back another season by Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil. According to the report Vermeil told Holmes to think about. There is no secret amongst Chiefs officials that know Holmes that its likely he'll play one maybe two more seasons. Holmes cited one of the reasons that he might call it quits soon is his desire to spend more time with his family.

3. Second year running back Larry Johnson has also looked solid in training camp. He's also had to deal with constant rumors that the Miami Dolphins, who are suddenly in the market for a new running back after the retirement of Mr. Williams, have made overtures to the Chiefs about the availability of Johnson. But according to the Chiefs, no offer has been made from the Dolphins. Kansas City has a lot invested in Johnson and with Holmes already wishy-washy about playing beyond this season, Johnson has the tools to be a solid starting running back.

4. Don't be alarmed with the stress fracture that's been preventing tight end Tony Gonzalez from participating in two a days. It's not bothering Gonzalez who showed two years ago that he doesn't need much work after his contract hold out. The stress fracture in his foot will require surgery but not until after the season. Gonzalez hopes the surgery does not take place until after the Super Bowl. He told reporters this week that the injury is secondary to the teams goal for the upcoming 2004 season.

I think this is the year to do it. If we don't do it this year it is going to be a disappointing year. I am talking about the Super Bowl when I say that. This playoff stuff, we expect that. We really think our chances to go to the Super Bowl are good," says a motivated Gonzalez.

5. Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been blushing over second year cornerback Julian Battle. The former Tennessee standout has been one of the most impressive players in camp thus far. Battle quite likely with a strong training camp, could start along side Eric Warfield in the Chiefs secondary. Last years starter Dexter McCleon is better suited playing the inside or slot receivers than covering man to man on the outside. Battle seems to be taking to the challenge. Lynn Stiles told me that Battle reminds him of a young Albert Lewis. Chiefs' fans can only hope he plays have as well as Lewis over the next ten years.

6. One issue of concern for the Chiefs this season has been the injuries amongst the wide receivers. Eddie Kennison went down last week with a wrist strain and Marc Boerigter has a sore shoulder. That has given an opportunity to undrafted free agent Richard Smith from Arkansas. He has caught the eye of the Chiefs coaches and hell get significant playing time against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend when the Chiefs face them in controlled scrimmage this Friday and Saturday. The good news for the long run is that both Kennison and Boerigter should both be ready to go in a week or so.

7. One of the benefactors for the time that Tony Gonzalez is missing in practice is the time that rookie Tight End Kris Wilson is getting on the field in River Falls. The former Pittsburgh Panther star has been everywhere on the practice field. Chiefs officials are quietly optimistic that they have themselves a potential offensive weapon in Wilson. I've been on record and I say this with all my convictions in check, Wilson has the best hands to come out of college the last two years. He catches everything and though he's a bit under-sized by NFL standards; he'll contribute to the Chiefs offense in 2004. You can also check out his diary on the Chiefs official website. It's a good read and gives you an honest perspective from the young rookie about life in the NFL.

8. Forget what you hear about the battle at Right Tackle. The job belongs to former Eagle John Welbourn. Trent Green was glowing about him at the beginning of training camp and it appears that barring an injury he'll beat out Chris Bober for the starting right tackle job. Bober has been playing all three offensive line positions in practice and he'll provide quality depth for the Chiefs offensive line that has been intact the last two seasons. Welbourn has played both guard and tackle in his career but with his natural athletic skills he's better suited to play tackle. He also has a mean streak that was missing from his predecessor John Tait. His reputation for mixing things up should provide some interesting matches on the field when the regular season starts.

9. Kicker Morten Andersen has been working hard this off-season trying to extend his distance. The Chiefs are concerned that he can't consistently kick field goals over 40 yards and they will give Lawrence Tynes every opportunity to win the job. Andersen will be 44 years old and though he wants to kick in the NFL until he reaches the half-century mark; this could be his last go around. If the Chiefs cut Andersen and go with Tynes, who is now trying to make the Chiefs roster for the third time, they lose out on one of the most consistent and clutch kickers in the NFL. I would not be surprised if they kept both kickers on the active roster this season.

10. Much has been said about the defensive thus far in training camp. Gunther Cunningham in one short week of work has the players fully entrenched in believing his system. To a man they may not fully understand the scope of his defensive playbooks but they are flying all over the field in practice. For the first time in three years the defense is playing with an aggressive fire. Regardless of the fact the Chiefs did not make any major player acquisition on defense, the fact that Cunningham is leading the defensive charge is more than enough to compensate for signing a high profile free agent.

Chiefs fans should not rule out the importance of coaching and understand that between Dick Vermeil, offensive coordinator Al Saunders and Cunningham that the three most important coaches combined have over 80 years of experience. That trifecta has more than enough talent on the roster to make a legit Super Bowl run. Just look at New England and Carolina last year, they had marginal talent but first class coaching. The Chiefs have the same mix now with the addition of Cunningham.

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