calls on Chiefs' defense to 'show up'
linemen seem to be happy Gunther is back
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
Show up has become his theme for the 2004
Showing up has been my theme forever its
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. Its
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. Well 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 hes had just 17.5 sacks
in three years playing in a complicated defensive scheme.
Despite these numbers, Gun is convinced he can rejuvenate
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 Im about and I know what hes
about. Its 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.
Thats the Eric Hicks I know, Cunningham
said happily. Its 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 didnt get another the rest of
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 hes
very consistent in intensity and thats one of the
reasons we drafted him in first round. Hes got a
chance to be a very, very fine football player,
head coach Dick Vermeil said.
Sims often clashed with former coordinator Greg Robinson.
Robinsons 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
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 theyve 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. Its
a penetrating, up-the-field kind of defense.
An attacking, up-the-field defense is a sheer contrast
to Robinsons 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. Were 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 doesnt
have to carry this team like in his previous stint in
KC. With 10 of 11 starters returning to the NFLs
top scoring offense, the Chiefs just need a couple defensive
stops a game to get to the next level.
If Cunninghams 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 FPagnotti@aol.com)