Play the young guys
Last Sunday against the Dolphins, Miami wide receiver Chris Chambers beat Chiefs cornerback Patrick Surtain with a quick move, and was heading towards the endzone with a full head of steam, the defender a step behind him. Quarterback Joey Harrington lofted a deep pass towards Chambers, and it appeared the Dolphins were on their way to another six points.
Chiefs safety Jarrad Page recognized Chambers running free and sprinted towards the pylon. Just as Chambers was lifting his hands for the football, Page made one of the most athletic plays of the season, leaping to deflect the ball with one hand. It was as good or better than any play any of the safeties have made this season. That play was an incredible combination of football intelligence and jaw-dropping athletic ability.
Here's the kicker: Page was playing in his ninth NFL game.
He hasn't even completed his first NFL season, and already Page is making those sorts of plays. He has the ability, and he's able to because head coach Herm Edwards and the coaching staff have allowed the young safety to be on the field. To play. To make mistakes. To learn.
That's what the Chiefs are going to have to do to be successful not just this year, but for years to come. This team isn't getting any younger. I know the Chiefs are in the middle of a playoff drive, but playing young players doesn't necessarily mean a team is giving up.
It means a team is thinking about the future, as well as today. Players don't get better, they don't learn by watching the game from street clothes. They learn by being on the field, by actually applying what the coaches teach them in live game situations. If Page hadn't been allowed to play earlier, Chambers' great play would have resulted in a touchdown.
The Chiefs aren't getting any younger. Will Shields will likely be gone after this season. Eddie Kennison can't continue playing well forever. When the older players get hurt or retire, you have to have a young player with at least some game experience in order to keep the machine running.
Guys like Page, Bernard Pollard, and Jeff Webb all have to be on the field to learn how to run routes, shed blocks and diagnose plays. Usually, you associate playing young players with rebuilding, but the way to be and stay competitive is to mix in some youth so that the next generation is ready to play.
Not to mention that players like Keyaron Fox are nearing their first free agency period, and the Chiefs need to find out the type of players they're making decisions on. The way to assess these guys is to allow them to take snaps.
Herm is playing the game perfectly. It's a fact that veteran players know how to win, but young players bring that exuberance that helps a team stay sharp emotionally. Once they get their feet wet they only add to the stable of good players on the roster.
Remember, young players are the future. There's no telling when the future will come.
Play the veterans
The Chiefs should keep Greg Wesley and Sammy Knight as the starting safeties.
There are several good reasons why, the first of which being the fact that they are both veterans. I realize that Pollard and Page are the future, and I'm fine with that, but the Chiefs need Knight and Wesley in there for the remainder of this season. The Chiefs are trying to make a playoff push. They can't afford to suffer big plays in any game because of a rookie mistake.
And it's not just big plays. Pollard dropped an interception against the Dolphins last week. Given the outstanding hands that Wesley possesses for a defensive back, you have to think he would have snagged that ball.
In Knight's case, I doubt there is anyone else on the roster, save Gunther Cunningham or David Gibbs, that gets everyone on the defense lined up properly before the snap. How many times did we see players out of position before Knight arrived in Kansas City? He's truly a coach on the field, and though he may have lost a step, I can probably count on one hand the number of times he's not been in a position to make a play over these last two years.
He's also the best run-support safety on the team. Neither young player can fill this dual role quite as well for the Chiefs, nor is there another veteran in the secondary to take over. Knight's lack of speed is a liability, but you can say that about a lot of safeties around the league. Even some Pro-Bowl safeties with a flair for drawing huge fines from the league office.
Wesley and Knight simply have a knack for getting the ball. I don't know where they stand at the moment, but last year when the Chiefs signed Knight I did a comparison among NFL safeties concerning the number of forced/recovered turnovers generated by the premier players at the position. Wesley and Knight were at or near the top. Page and Pollard haven't established that reputation yet.
Finally, in Wesley's case at least, he's adapted to Herm Edwards' Cover 2 scheme wonderfully. He's probably playing the best football of his career this season. It would be a complete slap in the face to start Page or Pollard in his spot at this point. He's earned the right to finish out this season as the starter.
That's not an indictment of the young guys, either, as they have definitely pushed Wesley to elevate his game. Page and Pollard should be given every opportunity to complete for the starting jobs in 2007, however.
Point/Counter Point: Play The Youngsters?
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