Is Will Shields Record in Jeopardy?

Sooner or later it has to happen but will it happen this year? Will the Kansas City Chiefs actually start the 2005 regular season without their 10-time All Pro Guard Will Shields.

With Shields in Kansas City talking with his doctors that inevitable question continues to make the rounds among Chiefs fans, including this one. Could this amazing streak that has seen 191 consecutive games by arguably the best guard to every play the game; really end?

Now if we're to believe his Head Coach Dick Vermeil, Shields will be back, no pun intended, in River Falls on Tuesday.

His Head Coach Dick Vermeil is optimistic that Shields will overcome this setback. But what if it's not true? What if that back can't go another torturous NFL season?

Something tells me that Shields will find his way back to the field. But just in case they've switched veteran John Welbourn to guard after playing last year at right tackle. Welbourn has played in every game since he broke into the league in 1999 when he was healthy.

Welbourn, who started ten games at Right Tackle in 2004 after the Chiefs completed a draft-day trade for him last April, is the player who would almost certainly start at either Guard position should Shields or for that matter Brian Waters if something were to happen to him in training camp. In the 66 regular season games, and nine playoffs games he has played in his seven year career, he has started them ALL. Of those 75 games (playoff games included), 64 have been at the Left Guard position.

Another option for the Chiefs is veteran Chris Bober. He has played right tackle and guard for the Chiefs and also has the skill to play center. Bober has lots of experience and actually worked with the first team offense on Monday. That's not a bad sign for Welbourn but more to give Bober some reps working with Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann.

All Chiefs coaches, front office personnel, media and fans know that there is about a 99% chance that this will be Shields last season in the NFL as a player. His consecutive playing streak is behind only Green Bay Packers Quarterback Brett Favre, who has started 225 straight games including playoffs, (every game of his NFL career). Shields, when asked of his intentions in June to play another NFL season; was uncertain whether he would come back for a number 14. He told reports, "Sometimes your body outweighs your heart."

When Shields aggravated his often injured back on Friday, which has caused him problems for the last few seasons; it was yet another reminder that Chiefs fans will have to accept the fact that the anchor of the best offensive line in football will simply have to retire soon. No matter how much we hate to see him go, and no matter how much he wants to continue playing. He has played through many injuries throughout his amazing career and the human body can only take so much punishment.

Still the best case scenario for the team and for Shields would be for him to play one last year if at all possible; as this is the best opportunity to win a Super Bowl of any team he has played on.

With the exception of their own team of course, everyone associated with the NFL would love to see Shields get a Super Bowl ring. Not only because of the class and professionalism he has carried himself with throughout his storied career. But also Shields has been a role model and set an example for all to follow on and off the field through his charitable work, football camps, etc. He has received many awards and accolades for his community service, including the Henry B. Iba Citizen-Athlete Award, Kansas City Spirit Award, Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian of the Year Award, "The Citizenship Through Sports Award", was named the 2003 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, also elected into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame, and many other honors that are too numerous to mention.

His primary charity, the "Will to Succeed Foundation," has developed a number of innovative programs and has benefited more than 100,000 individuals since the foundation's inception in ‘93. A complete listing of all Shields' charitable efforts can be found on the foundation's website at www.willtosucceed.org .

Fortunately for the Chiefs team, the personnel team led by CEO Carl Peterson, Denny Thum Executive VP/Assistant General Manager, and Lynn Stiles VP Football Operations/Player Personnel has prepared for this inevitability, by trading for Welbourn and signing Bober a year ago.

Still how do you replace the best offensive lineman in the history of the franchise?

Simply put…you don't. You do however, have to get someone else to line up at that position and play well enough for the drop off in productivity to be as minimal as possible, so how about a guy who has started 55 regular season games at Left Offensive Guard, and nine more playoff games including three NFC Championship games with the Philadelphia Eagles?

The Eagles traded Welbourn to the Chiefs in exchange for the Chiefs fifth-round draft choice (162nd overall - used on FB Thomas Tapeh) in 2004 and a third-round selection in 2005 (77th overall - used on RB Ryan Moats).

Welbourn performed well in 2004 at Right Tackle, but with the depth Petersons' team has acquired on the offensive line, he was allowed to return to his natural position where he has proven to be a solid player. A seven year veteran, Welbourn is a 6-5, 310 pound graduate of the California Golden Bears where he played under the direction of head coach Steve Marriucci. He majored in Rhetoric at California and enrolled in the university's graduate school of Education following his graduation in May of ‘98.

He has a reputation as an intense competitor with a nasty on-field disposition. He learned early in his career that a powerful pancake block is more effective on the field than "Rhetoric". He is a former fourth-round draft choice who fits the mobile mold of the Chiefs offensive lineman, but can also out-muscle opponents with brute force when necessary. Welbourn is reunited in Kansas City with former Eagles teammate, LB Shawn Barber, as well as former Cal teammate and six-time Pro Bowl TE Tony Gonzalez.

Still there remains plenty of hope that Shields will be able to play for the Chiefs this season, and with the improvements on the defensive side of the ball, hopefully the team can build some comfortable leads so veterans like Shields and Roaf can be pulled out of some games early, to keep them fresh and injury free.

Somehow I don't think Welbourn or Bober for that matter will mind if that streak of consecutive games continues when Shields walks out onto the field in uniform on September 11th.

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