The offensive line, which has been in a state of transition ever since Willie Roaf went down with a hamstring injury in the season opener, stabilized considerably Monday with the All-Pro's return to practice. Also helpful was the return of veteran guard-tackle John Welbourn from a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's steroid policy.
The defensive secondary got a lift, too, with the return of Eric Warfield from his four-game suspension for violating the league's alcohol abuse policy. And right now, the league's 30th-ranked pass defense can use any lift it can get.
Even so, Kansas City's attempt to return to full health fell short when Kevin Sampson, a second-year player who was supposed to be the starting right tackle this year, remained in a New Jersey hospital undergoing tests for what the team said was complications from dehydration.
Jordan Black, who has been struggling to replace Roaf at left tackle, likely will start at right tackle against Washington.
While Roaf's return was greeted with great relief -- as the Chiefs haven't pass protected especially well in the three games he missed -- coach Dick Vermeil wasn't ready to rush either Warfield or Welbourn back into immediate duty just yet.
"We'll work him back in slowly, but I don't know if he'll be ready to play this week (against Washington)," Vermeil said of Warfield, the Chiefs' top corner of the past four seasons, who spent his first day of practice working with the scout squad.
"It was never automatic that we'd put (current starter) Dexter McCleon on the bench," Vermeil added. "It can be risky when you put a corner out there before he's ready."
Warfield, anxious to end the unhappy chapter of his life that saw him convicted for DUI three times in a three-year period, understood that he wouldn't immediately be given his starting job back.
"I'm not expecting to come in and start ahead of Dexter or change anything on the defense," said Warfield, who had four interceptions in each of the past four seasons. "They've got a pretty good chemistry so far. I've got to work my way back into this defense."
"I've got a fresh start," Warfield added. I've made a lot of changes in my life, lived a whole new lifestyle in these last few months. Hopefully, it's for the better, and I can come back and contribute to this team."
The NFL would rather he didn't say anything at all, but John Welbourn returned to the Chiefs camp Monday still insisting that he did not knowingly take a banned substance for which he received a four-game suspension.
"Any time you get wrapped up in something that you didn't have a part of and you feel you've vindicated yourself, it's pretty unfortunate that it happened," said Welbourn, who claims he passed a lie detector examination that he said supported his position.
"The NFL wants me to make no comment, but I think I proved that I didn't do anything wrong," he added. "But it's their ball and they'll play the way they want."
Welbourn, who was not allowed to be around Arrowhead Stadium during his suspension, returned to his family home in Orange County, where he trained by running, lifting weights and surfing.
"Have you ever surfed?" he asked reporters. "Paddling in those waves is tiring. I did the same kind of training I do every off-season."
Dick Vermeil, a "gearhead" from the days when his father worked on race cars in their northern California family home, spent part of his weekend off attending the Banquet 400 Nextel Cup race at the Kansas Speedway.
"I enjoyed it very much," said Vermeil, who visited the garage of Jeff Burton and attended the driver's meeting before the race. "I didn't miss a lap -- unless I had to make a pit stop myself."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES:
LB Keyaron Fox was placed on injured reserve Monday to open a roster spot for the return of OG/OT John Welbourn after his four-game suspension. Fox sustained a knee injury in the Oakland game. The team believes it will heal in time without surgery.
OT Jonathan Ingram was released and then re-signed to the practice squad to open a roster spot for the return of CB Eric Warfield from his four-game suspension.
OT Willie Roaf finished the entire workout Monday for the first time since he went down with a hamstring injury following the second series of Kansas City's season-opening win over the Jets. "He worked well today, but we were not in pads," Coach Dick Vermeil said of the 35-year-old Roaf. "When we go in pads Wednesday, we'll get a better idea of where he is. But he feels very comfortable right now."
OT Kevin Sampson, who was hospitalized in Hoboken, N.J., last Thursday after experiencing what preliminary media reports described as seizures, should be able to continue playing football, though possibly not this week against Washington. Sampson, who suffers from asthma, is believed to have complications from dehydration and a recent failure to take his asthma medications. He was undergoing a battery of future testing in New Jersey, his home state, and was expected to return to Kansas City at mid-week.
OT Jordan Black will shift back to right tackle now that Willie Roaf is back at the left tackle spot. Black has played for the season's first 3 3/4 games since Roaf went down with a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the season opener.
CB Dexter McCleon will retain his starting right cornerback spot despite the return of Eric Warfield from his four-game suspension. McCleon and Warfield were both starters a year ago, but McCleon lost his starting job before the season's midpoint while battling shoulder and leg injuries. With the arrival of Patrick Surtain this season, McCleon became Warfield's replacement when he was suspended for violating the league's alcohol abuse policy.
FIRST QUARTER REPORT CARD:
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Even with personnel changes along the offensive line, the Priest Holmes/Larry Johnson tandem is still averaging 135 yards a game and 4.5 yards a carry, good for a No. 5 ranking.
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Barely average. Pass protection problems has this unit looking like anything but one of the league's best, which it was a year ago. Trent Green is continually hurried and throwing off balance, which is reflected in his mediocre 77.6 rating. His top target of a year ago, TE Tony Gonzalez, spent the first quarter of the season doing more pass protection than route running, and caught only 16 balls without any touchdowns.
RUSHING DEFENSE: B -- A big improvement from a year ago that would have been better had not the Chiefs given up 221 yards on the ground in their 30-10 loss in Denver. Just when you start to believe that this defense has turned the corner by holding down Curtis Martin (54 total) in the opener, Mike Anderson breaks a long one in Denver, and the Chiefs' tendency to give up big running plays rears its ugly head again.
PASSING DEFENSE: D -- Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight were supposed to bring some of Miami's secondary magic to Kansas City, but they're finding that you can't hold coverage forever without some serious pass rush, which they had with the Dolphins, but don't have here. The Chiefs are third-from-worst in passing yards surrendered.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Dante Hall has one return touchdown, which is the highlight. Coverage teams haven't given up any real big plays, yet they are 29th in opponent's kickoff return, 30th in gross punting and last in net punting. Rookie punter Dustin Colquitt isn't yet what the Chiefs hoped for in a third-round draft pick. His 42.4-yard gross and 35.4-yard net aren't far from league lows.
COACHING B-minus -- Coach Dick Vermeil said before the season that his team would do well to be 2-2 after the first quarter. After jumping out to a surprising 2-0 start, the Chiefs seemed content to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. Al Saunders has struggled in play-calling, mainly because the flux of his offensive line has limited all he can do. Still, he's got to find a way to return Tony Gonzalez to his role as play-maker instead of pass protector.
Gunther Cunningham's run defense is greatly improved, a top priority, but his pass defense remains awful, largely because there is still no pass rush. The Chiefs have only seven sacks and are on pace to set a franchise-low.
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