Kevin Sampson Era Begins Tonight

Okay, now be honest. How many of you guessed that Kevin Sampson would be named the starter at the right tackle position for the 2005 Kansas City Chiefs. Not many. Well it didn't take him long to beat out Jordan Black for the right tackle spot and it might not be too long before he follows in the footsteps of some great tackles who have played for the Chiefs over the last four plus decades.

Most fans not only found it surprising that Sampson won the job, but that it was announced before the first preseason game. Especially considering he was drafted in the seventh round just last year, he had played for only half of one game at right tackle all year, only played offense in four games, and only then in the jumbo package as the third tackle. Being inactive for 10 games the preceding season doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the prospect of opening the following year as a starter in the best offensive line in the entire NFL.

Sampson played right tackle in the second half of the last game of last year versus San Diego, replacing Jordan Black after an injury. Sampson must have played extremely well. Even the most ardent Chiefs fans barely noticed. So when Sampson opened training camp at the position most thought it was just a try-out, and there would perhaps be a tight camp battle for the job. But Head Coach Dick Vermeil announced earlier this week that it was Sampson's job to lose. Barring injury, the battle is all but over.

Many fans and media may be surprised, but Sampson isn't. Kevin Sampson came here to win a starting job, and anything less would have been a surprise to him.

The thing that jumps out at you about Sampson is his confidence, but without being cocky. The second year player from Syracuse seems, if anything, somewhat nonchalant about his starting position.

One would think that this whole thing would have been a bit overwhelming for a seventh-rounder. Sampson was asked if he was having difficulty adjusting to the speed and variety of blitzes from NFL linebackers and secondary personnel, "Not that I recall, no. You just run the play that's called," Sampson said. "If they come and you're supposed to block them, you block them, that's all."

One reason for Sampson's elevation to the starters spot could be his day to day battles with veteran defensive end Eric Hicks. That encounter would toughen up any unseasoned offensive tackle. "Eric's a great player, I went up against him last year when I was on the scout team, you know, we make each other better, so it's good to go up against him," said Sampson.

Sampson is respectful of the battle and that's helped him be less intimidated going into his second training camp with the Chiefs; still he's a young player and one that is taking a mighty jump from scout team to NFL starter.

Last year defensive end Jared Allen had a great year, especially for a young player, in large part due to practicing against the best left tackle ever to play the game in Willie Roaf. That's similar in sharpening your skills and toughness by playing opposite Hicks Sampson said. "Oh yeah, he's (Hicks) been in the game for a while, he's battle-tested, so it's great getting to go up against him….a player who has played the game for as long as he has and is as good as he is."

Thus far Sampson has been very impressive in camp; he plays with a mean streak. He has a large wingspan and is very smart about how to use leverage against his opponents. He had to be a wrestler…I checked. Sampson was undefeated in his entire high school career as a heavyweight wrestler at Westwood High School in Westwood, New Jersey.

This is starting to make more sense. Being a wrestler that's where the knowledge of leverage came from. But what about balance? Sampson loves to snowboard. Check. Balance from snowboarding; that leaves agility and speed.

Sampson is especially effective at running the screens and sweeps required by offensive coordinator Al Saunders offense. He looks to be the second best pulling tackle behind Roaf on the team. Many of the great NFL tackles weren't all that skippy about pulling and doing so with enough speed for a back like Priest Holmes to run behind you. Sampson played two years of basketball. Check. Okay, power…..Sampson threw the shot-put for the track team.

This was starting to really make sense how the coaches knew what they had in this guy. Mighty Mike Campbell, a Warpaint Illustrated Beat Writer observed early in camp, before I heard any other media person make the comment, that when the right side of the line, right guard John Welbourn (in place of Will Shields, or Shields before sidelined by injury) and Sampson both pulled on sweeps and screens; that these two were mowing defenders over in practice. He said that whether Shields was in the scrimmage or Welbourn either one, the right side of the line was fast, mobile, and had ill intentions. They may be one of the meanest duos of blockers on those plays in the league. Mike wasn't surprised when Sampson was named starter….in my opinion he saw this before anyone outside of the coaches. Mighty Mike is an excellent X's and O's guy who can spot talent with the best of the media in camp.

Now the question was……how did the Chiefs find this guy? He was the 231st player taken but Kansas City did a good job of scouting him.

Both Vermeil and Saunders, on the recommendations of offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Irv Eatman, told us that Sampson had nailed down the starting right tackle spot. Not bad for a virtually unknown coming out of Syracuse…..so much so that he wasn't even invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

"I don't have any thoughts about the combine right now", he said laughing, "I could care less about that and the selection committee. You know, (Sampson says that a lot), we've been in camp two weeks now, and we're a little beat up and sore, and I'm just trying to prove it again, and I don't want (my production) to fall off," Sampson said.

Heck this 7th rounder sounds as if he thought he should have started last year! His confidence is amazing….but, again, with all respect and without sounding cocky. I'm trying to remember the last time I was this impressed, but actually, there are a lot of Chiefs players just like this young man in camp this year. The Chiefs scouting and personnel department lead by Lynn Stiles, and assisted by Bill Kuharich, and director of college scouting Chuck Cook, have done it again. General Manager Carl Peterson is always bragging on these men, and Kevin Sampson is yet another example of why. Sampson is reminiscent of another seventh rounder with similar abilities….Dave Szott.

By now a hugely positive impression has been made and Warpaint just had to dig a little deeper so their premium members could learn more about what made this man tick. He loves the game of football and though we tried to change the topic at times in our conversation; it's clear that Sampson understands this opportunity at hand and what it means as we chatted about being a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

WI: Who were your heroes growing up?

KS: "My parents…yes my mother and father, that's it"

WI:"Who were your favorite football players growing up?

KS: "I didn't watch football; I loved playing, but never watched it. I just wasn't interested. In fact, I had never heard of most of the Chiefs "star" players when I got here. It sounds funny I guess, but I didn't know who guys like Shields and Roaf and Holmes were, only barely recognized there names. I had little idea just how revered they were and all they had accomplished. Now I know and I respect them tremendously and it's an honor to playing with them. We have chemistry now. I know where they are going to be on certain plays and they know where I'm going to be so we can work as a cohesive unit. That's what makes a great offensive football team"

WI: What's it take to be a part of the starting unit with these all-pros on the line?

KS: "You know, last year I got in to the huddle a few times with the first time, and I was nervous as all heck. I would be like, there's Roaf, there's Shields, Gonzalez, Green, Holmes, and I almost took a kind of ‘whoa' approach, this year you know, (he says that a lot), being with these guys for a year, working with them, I know I can't think like that because I'm proving I belong here. So if I have that perspective even for a second, I'm missing the boat. So I think having that chemistry with them, fitting in with them, that's a huge thing. You know, if I'm going to be the guy, I have to step in and mesh well with these guys. I have to prove that I can fall into their mold of an offense."

WI: How has camp been overall?

KS: "I think it's been a good camp so far, I've had some good days and some bad days. I just have to work through it all and get better every day, because camp is starting to be a grind. But if you have a bad play one snap, you have to get it the next one. You try to realize the things you did good, and work on the things you didn't do so good."

WI: How do you relax, what kind of music do you listen to?

KS: "I like rap"

WI:Favorite Artists?

KS: "I like Jay-Z, 50 cent; Ludacris….those are some good ones."

WI: Favorite Movie or TV?

KS: "I don't really have a ……wait….Scarface! Yeah Scarface, definitely" I like action movies mostly, some comedy…..not much of a horror-flick guy. I like some sit-coms, not a talk-show guy at all….not at all. I don't like reality TV either. I was always outside as a kid"

WI: Were you Hunting or Fishing guy since you were outside a lot?

KS: "No"

WI : "Any hobbies?

KS: "No, just played sports-other outside activities. In Jr High I started playing baseball, two years of Basketball in High School, Snowboarding, oh and I threw shot-put in High School and Wrestled. But at some point you have to pick one, you have to realize where you are going and just pick one and focus on that"

For Sampson he's being modest considering the fact he never lost a wrestling match in high schools and with that track record; it's not likely that too many defensive ends are going to beat him in most one-on-one match-ups this season.

Still tonight he'll line up against some great ones in the Vikings and it will be a treat to see him matched up with Minnesota defensive end Kenechi Udeze, and occasionally on a line stunt versus all-pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams; one of the best in the NFL.

With that said, the Kevin Sampson era begins tonight and nobody will b shocked if this is the first game in a long career as the Kansas City Chiefs starting right tackle.

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