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Chiefs Chatter


Cunningham calls on Chiefs' defense to 'show up'

Defensive linemen seem to be happy Gunther is back

Posted 8/2/04

by Frank Pagnotti

In the past, new Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has used numerous expletives to get his defense fired up during practice.

This year he has done away with the foul language and substituted it with phrases like: “run downhill,” “get up the field,” “get nasty,” and his personal favorite, “show up” to get the defense motivated.

‘Show up’ has become his theme for the 2004 defense.

“Showing up has been my theme forever — it’s a big thing around Kansas City and the organization,” Cunningham said after the Saturday afternoon practice. “I got e-mails when I was away from Kansas City and all they said was we miss the ‘show up.’ It’s about eleven guys getting to the football.”

Getting eleven guys to the football is something the Chiefs defense has failed at since Cunningham left back in 2000. Since his departure, the Chiefs have ranked 23rd, 32nd and 29th in total defense. Obviously, ‘showing up’ is something they failed to do over this period.

Despite their defensive struggles, the Chiefs will likely return the same starters from last season. However, head coach Dick Vermeil believes that just the return of Cunningham will mean a big turn around for his defense.

“Gunther has freed the front seven up to play a lot more aggressively. That will make a difference,” Vermeil said. “We’ll make a jump. We can jump real close to (the top 10) and maybe inside of it.”

To accomplish these lofty goals, the Chiefs desperately need defensive end Eric Hicks to revert to his 2000 form.

Back in 2000, Hicks had a career high 14 sacks in just 13 games under the tutelage of Cunningham. However, when Cunningham left after the 2000 season, Hicks’ sack totals left with him — he’s had just 17.5 sacks in three years playing in a complicated defensive scheme.

Despite these numbers, Gun is convinced he can rejuvenate Hicks again.

“Eric Hicks is a fine football player,” Cunningham declared. “He just needs to get all the negative thoughts out of his mind.” Gunther then added, “I think Eric and I missed each other to be honest with you. He knows what I’m about and I know what he’s about. It’s good to work with him again.”

Early in training camp, Hicks has shown flashes of dominance. During practice on Thursday, Hicks used a Reggie White-type pass rush move that sent new starting tackle John Welbourn on his back.

“That’s the Eric Hicks I know,” Cunningham said happily. “It’s good to see him back in a position where he can do the things I know he can do.” This is also a make or break year for defensive tackle Ryan Sims. Sims, much like Hicks, needs to ‘show up’ in a big way this season.

Sims was expected to be the anchor of the defensive line when the Chiefs took him with the 6th overall pick in the 2002 draft. However, a lengthy holdout, and a season-ending injury slowed his progress tremendously during his rookie year. Then in 2003, Sims started out with 3 sacks in his first 4 games, but didn’t get another the rest of the season.

Through the first couple of days in training camp you can see that Sims is getting better.
“You can see improvement in Ryan Sims and he’s very consistent in intensity and that’s one of the reasons we drafted him in first round. He’s got a chance to be a very, very fine football player,” head coach Dick Vermeil said.

Sims often clashed with former coordinator Greg Robinson. Robinson’s main goal was to try to confuse offensives with his read and react scheme, and Sims was always trying to deviate from that to penetrate up the field. It turns out that the only people that Robinson was confusing was his own defense.

Needless to say, Sims is very thankful to have Cunningham around. “He may have saved my career,” Sims said.

Quarterback Trent Green can already see a big difference in the defense.

“What Gunther is having the defensive line do is an adjustment to what they’ve done in the past couple years in terms of getting up-field and pressuring,” Green said during a press conference on Saturday. “That will be an adjustment for us from an offensive standpoint in terms of protection and running the ball. It’s a penetrating, up-the-field kind of defense.”

An attacking, up-the-field defense is a sheer contrast to Robinson’s read and react scheme , and is a welcomed change for Hicks.

“I would just say that this is a much more defensive-line friendly system,” he said. “We’re being freed up to get up-field and get after the quarterback, which is something every defensive linemen wants to do.”

The luxury for Cunningham is that his defense doesn’t have to carry this team like in his previous stint in KC. With 10 of 11 starters returning to the NFL’s top scoring offense, the Chiefs just need a couple defensive stops a game to get to the next level.

If Cunningham’s defense can get those extra stops on Sundays, then the Chiefs just might find themselves showing up for the Super Bowl in Jacksonville in February.

(Frank Pagnotti covers the Kansas City Chiefs. He can be reached at