Chiefs OL Not What It Once Was

Kansas City's starting offensive line is hurting now and aging continuously, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is starting to get personal in his player attacks. Get the report from Chiefs camp before they square off with the Vikings in the preseason opener.

Is the Chiefs offensive line, the traditional rock-solid foundation of one of the league's most potent attacks, starting to show the cracks of age?

There were times during the first week of Kansas City's Wisconsin training camp when that appeared to be the case. Especially when 10-time Pro Bowl right guard Will Shields wasn't practicing because of an arthritic back, or when 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf was working only once a day.

By the end of the first full week, when promising young right tackle Kevin Sampson was limping on a badly bruised big toe, and versatile veteran John Welbourn — the probable right guard while Shields is down — was down briefly after someone fell on leg, the Chiefs seemed to be patching holes faster than a riverfront town with a leaking levy after a weeklong rain.

It's only early August, of course, and the odds are that Kansas City's offensive line will be much healthier for the Sept. 11 opener with the Jets. Still, with Shields unable to practice as of Aug. 8, and knowing that Roaf will be playing at age 35 this year, the Chiefs line clearly is on the verge of a major transition that will start at the 2005 camp.

"I have a concern about Will Shields getting ready to go," admitted coach Dick Vermeil, who spent the entire spring session working without his three Pro Bowl linemen — Shields and Roaf, who were excused from spring workouts to let their bodies heal, and left guard Brian Waters, who chose to spend the spring with his newborn child and family.

Kansas City's hope is that by bringing Shields back slowly from his back problem, he'll be at full speed come September.

"I like what I see," Vermeil said of Shields' conditioning work off the practice field. "He has a determination and an enthusiasm and confidence."

And Roaf likely will benefit from his once-daily workout schedule.

"I think working him once a day has helped him," Vermeil said. "He's having, to me, his best camp since I've been here."

NOTES

  • KC defensive players have noted that Gunther Cunningham, who has made the turnaround of the Chiefs defense his quest for the Holy Grail, has gotten more personnel in his often profane demands of his players.

    An example: After veteran Dexter McCleon dropped a possible interception in a 7-on-7 drill, Cunningham castigated him with "Catch the ball, Alphonso." That was a direct shot at rookie Alphonso Hodge, who has trouble hanging onto the ball.

    Hodge got the point. Moments after practice ended, he was catching balls off the Jugs machine.


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