Search

1 Kansas City Chiefs Any improvement in the league's worst defense will send this offensive juggernaut to the top

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

Table of Contents
Sept. 1, 2003

NFL Preview 2003

1 Kansas City Chiefs Any improvement in the league's worst defense will send this offensive juggernaut to the top

By Josh Elliot Projected lineups and PVRs compiled by David Sabino

He was signed as a free agent to make an immediate impact, and
linebacker Shawn Barber wasted no time. Four days into camp,
Barber sneaked into linebackers coach Joe Vitt's dorm room at the
Chiefs' Wisconsin-River Falls training site and affixed a
battery-operated, red-eyed bat to the ceiling with a string. When
Vitt returned to his room and opened the door, the creature flew
past his face. "It scared the life out of me," Vitt said.

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

Vitt liked the gag so much that he promptly sprang it on
offensive line coach Mike Solari, who played it on defensive
backs coach Peter Giunta, who played it on defensive coordinator
Greg Robinson. The punking went on until well after midnight.
"The best part is that none of them wanted to be the last one to
be had," Barber says. "No one wanted to be the butt of a joke."

Not after the 2002 season. Last year Kansas City's defense was
laughable, and not simply because it finished last in total
defense (390.5 yards per game), 31st against the pass (261.3
yards per game) and 28th in points allowed (24.9 points per
game). The embarrassment was particularly painful given that the
Chiefs' offense was scoring more often than Colin Farrell,
averaging a league-best 29.2 points per game behind Priest
Holmes, the NFL's most productive running back over the last two
seasons. Kansas City scored at least 30 points eight times but
lost four of those games. Even in their eight victories, the
Chiefs allowed 20 points per game. Little surprise that Kansas
City defenders were apologizing to the offense almost weekly.

"You get sick of giving up almost 40 points a game, week after
week," says sixth-year defensive tackle Eric Hicks.

Injuries to key starters plus Robinson's intricate game
plans--which several starters found too complex--contributed to
the unit's dreadful performance. Enter the 6'2", 237-pound
Barber, a fifth-year outside linebacker who brings athleticism
and attitude to a defense that lacked both last year. After
signing a seven-year, $30 million free-agent deal following one
season in Philadelphia (he played his first four years in
Washington), Barber quickly made his presence felt in Kansas
City. By the end of May's minicamps he had established himself as
the defense's emotional leader because of his nonstop chatter and
ball hawking. "[Barber] takes his position one step beyond,"
coach Dick Vermeil says. "He's a charismatic guy, has a great
work ethic."

"Shawn makes plays every practice that no one was making here
last year," says fellow outside linebacker Scott Fujita, who
started nine games as a rookie in 2002. "Things feel different.
It's a sea change."

Barber's signing was not the only defensive personnel change.
Former Green Bay defensive end Vonnie Holliday signed a
five-year, $20 million deal to help shore up a pass rush that had
only 34 sacks a year ago. Barber's arrival also means that
linebacker Mike Maslowski, who led the Chiefs with 126 tackles in
2002 despite playing out of position on the outside, moves back
to his natural spot in the middle. Meanwhile, free safety Jerome
Woods has returned from the broken left leg he suffered in August
'02.

Everyone from general manager Carl Peterson to the camp's
cafeteria workers points out that the defense need only ascend to
the middle of the NFL pack for the Chiefs to be Super Bowl
contenders. Led by quarterback Trent Green and tight end Tony
Gonzalez, Kansas City could score in bunches as long as Holmes
returns to the form that made him an MVP candidate before being
sidelined last December with tissue damage and deep bruising to
his right hip. (He had off-season surgery and looked like his old
self in the preseason.)

Should all that happen, Vermeil could end his third season in
Kansas City just as he did his third in St. Louis: holding the
Lombardi Trophy. If, however, Barber and the new-look defense
play anything like last year's unit, the joke will be on
them. --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO DOUBLE DUTY Signed as a free agent to solidify the linebacking corps, Barber has also kept the team loose off the field.COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS GREENCOLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

A year ago defensive tackle RYAN SIMS, the sixth pick in the
'02 draft, held out for the preseason, then reported in lousy
shape. In Week 6 he suffered a season-ending left elbow injury.
Sims's rep took another hit when he was two weeks late for the
off-season workout program. On a unit in need of playmakers, it's
time for Sims to produce.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"The offense will score lots of points if Priest Holmes is 100
percent, but if he's lost even a half step, it'll be a different
story.... Trent Green isn't a great athlete, but last year he
looked comfortable in Dick Vermeil's system. His accuracy and
pocket presence were excellent.... Eddie Kennison was one of the
league's biggest surprises; he looked like he was done three
years ago.... Johnnie Morton will have a better year playing at
his usual [slot] receiver position. He looked lost last year....
Shawn Barber's a fast, smart veteran who will upgrade last year's
terrible linebacking unit. Mike Maslowski played out of position
on the outside last season; he was too slow to be effective
there. I'm not sold on Scott Fujita. They love him, but he lacks
quickness.... [Defensive coordinator] Greg Robinson likes to
gamble, which means leaving his corners on an island. That's a
problem when your best guy is Dexter McCleon, who doesn't have
enough speed.... Don't buy into the hype about Vermeil always
going to the playoffs in his third season. The only reason he did
anything in St. Louis is that Kurt Warner fell into his lap."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 SAN DIEGO
14 PITTSBURGH
21 at Houston
28 at Baltimore

Oct. 5 DENVER
12 at Green Bay
20 at Oakland (Mon.)
26 BUFFALO

Nov. 2 Open date
9 CLEVELAND
16 at Cincinnati
23 OAKLAND
30 at San Diego

Dec. 7 at Denver
14 DETROIT
20 at Minnesota (Sat.)
28 CHICAGO

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 25
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .475
Games against playoff teams: 5

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 8-8
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 3/11/4
DEFENSE 24/31/32

COACH: Dick Vermeil; third season with Kansas City (90-91 in NFL)

PRIEST HOLMES

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 1 313 1,615 5.2

REC YARDS AVG. TDs
70 672 9.6 24

TRENT GREEN

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 28 470 287 61.1

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
3,690 26 13 92.6

TONY RICHARDSON

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 151 22 81 3.7

REC YARDS AVG. TDs
18 125 6.9 3

EDDIE KENNISON

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 113 53 906 2

TONY GONZALEZ

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 54 63 773 7

WILLIE ROAF

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'5" 315 lbs. 16 16

BRIAN WATERS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'3" 318 lbs. 16 16

CASEY WIEGMANN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'2" 285 lbs. 16 16

WILL SHIELDS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 16

JOHN TAIT

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'6" 323 lbs. 16 16

JOHNNIE MORTON

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 76 29 397 1

DEFENSE

RE VONNIE HOLLIDAY[1] 26 tackles 6 sacks
RT JOHN BROWNING 39 tackles 7 sacks
LT RYAN SIMS 6 tackles 0 sacks
LE ERIC HICKS 54 tackles 9 sacks
OLB SCOTT FUJITA 55 tackles 1 sack
MLB MIKE MASLOWSKI 126 tackles 3 int.
OLB SHAWN BARBER[1] 91 tackles 2 int.
CB WILLIAM BARTEE 77 tackles 0 int.
SS GREG WESLEY 64 tackles 6 int.
FS JEROME WOODS* 87 tackles 3 int.
CB ERIC WARFIELD 64 tackles 4 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K MORTEN ANDERSEN 182 51/51 XPS 22/26 FGS 117 PTS.
PR DANTE HALL 127 29 RET. 13.4 AVG. 2 TDS
KR DANTE HALL 127 57 RET. 23.8 AVG. 1 TD
P JASON BAKER[1] 55 PUNTS 38.8 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)
*2001 stats

"Kennison was one of the biggest surprises. I thought he was
done three years ago."