Chiefs, Vikings Similar Teams

Many aspects of the Chiefs and Vikings are similar in preseason 2003. Both are expecting a solid offense and hoping for an improved defense, so Vikings coach Mike Tice will be especially looking to see how his improved defense performs against one of the best offenses from last season.

By the time the 2003 season is over, the Vikings will have seen more than their fair share of the Kansas City Chiefs. After spending two days scrimmaging with the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago, the Vikings will travel to K.C. for their first road preseason game of the year. In many ways, the two teams share a lot of similarities.

Like the Vikings, the Chiefs have a high-powered offense. Last year, Kansas City led the NFL in scoring and was second in rushing only to the Vikings. But defense, also like the Vikings, was awful in Kansas City last year. The Chiefs were last in total defense, second-to-last in pass defense and 28th in points allowed. Both teams are looking for more balance and defensive improvement, which should end up being the yardstick of this game — whose defense can stop whose offense better.

The Chiefs are pretty much set at QB. Trent Green is the starter and veteran backups Todd Collins and Jonathan Quinn are entrenched as the backups. Green was expected to be a star after following coach Dick Vermeil over from the Rams, but he took a year to hit his stride with his new personnel.

Green isn't the top-five talent Vermeil thought he could be, but he has gotten better each year and big things are expected.

The biggest question for the Chiefs offense is at running back. When healthy, Priest Holmes was as dominant a force in K.C. as Marshall Faulk was in St. Louis. But a hip injury late last year that required surgery has some wondering if he can return at full strength. If he does, he can be the best running back in the NFL. If he's not, there could be a problem. Holmes is backed up by rookie Larry Johnson and third-year man Derrick Blaylock, who will both see plenty of action vs. the Vikes. At fullback, the Chiefs are set, with versatile Tony Richardson in the starting spot and second-year men Omar Easy and Jamar Julien competing for backup spots.

The receiver corps is a mixed bag. At tight end, there are few (if any) better than Tony Gonzalez. A tight end with wide receiver speed, Gonzalez is a threat to break a long gain over the middle at any time and is routinely double-teamed. Defenses get away with that because of many questions in the receiver corps. 2002 free agent Johnnie Morton was supposed to be the answer, but he was a huge disappointment last year. That allowed veteran Eddie Kennison and rookie speedster Marc Boerigter to crack the lineup. Vermeil is still waiting for players like Dante Hall, Snoop Minnis and Sylvester Morris to stand up and fight for playing time. If they do, Morton could drop farther on the depth chart.

Up front, the Chiefs are looking for depth on an offensive line that is solid in the starting corps but very weak if any of the starters get injured. The opening-day lineup is set (barring injuries) with Willie Roaf and John Tait at tackle, Will Shields and Brian Waters at guard and Casey Wiegmann at center. Beyond them, however, depth is nonexistent. Veterans Marcus Spears, Willie Jones and Darnell Alford are trying to beat out rookie Brett Williams for a roster spot, but at least one of them will be gone. The rest of the backups on the line appear set, with Victor Allotey and Donald Willis at guard and Jason Andersen at center.

The needed changes for the Chiefs are on defense, and those changes began up front. After drafting Ryan Sims in front of the Vikings a year ago to line up next to DT John Browning, this year K.C. added former Packer Vonnie Holliday to line up at DE with Eric Hicks. The front four appear set, with Eric Downing, Derrick Ransom, Jarid Tomich and Montique Sharpe fighting for roster spots at tackle and Gary Stills, Eddie Freeman, R-Kal Truluk and rookie Jimmy Wilkerson competing for backup spots at end.

The Chiefs made the first big signing of free agency on opening day, snagging LB Shawn Barber away from the Eagles and putting him in at weakside linebacker. That won't solve everything, however. Depth is a critical problem. Scott Fujita seems to have the strongside position won by default, with veterans Quinton Caver, Larry Atkins and Fred Jones trying to stick with the team in reserve roles. In the middle, it's anyone's guess. Mike Maslowksi has replaced Marvcus Patton as the starting MLB and will be challenged by Kawika Mitchell.

The Chiefs also spent to get Dexter McCleon from the Rams to help the secondary, but he's no cinch to start. Eric Warfield will start at one corner, but McCleon will fight with veterans William Bartee and Corey Harris and rookie Julian Battle for a starting job — with the losers forced into reserve roles. Things are a little more settled at safety, with starters Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods in place, but depth is a huge consideration. Behind the starters are unproven backups in Shaunard Harts, who started by force last year, rookie Willie Pile, Lyle West and Clint Finley. All in all, it's still a mess in the Chiefs secondary.

This game has all the looks of a battle of two teams with similar strengths (offense) going against similar weaknesses (defense). The outcome of this game will likely come down to which team's second 30 players are better than the other's — making for a wild second half that will determine a game long after the Priest Holmeses and Randy Mosses of the game are long since sitting on the bench.


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