for (Julian) Battle
corner is pushing for a starting job
When the Chiefs took Julian Battle with the 92nd pick
of the 2004 NFL draft, they didnt know how long
it would take him to turn into a quality NFL cornerback.
Turns out, it might only take one season.
Despite it being in the early stages of training camp,
Battle is already pushing 2003 starters, Dexter McCleon
and Eric Warfield for their starting cornerback positions.
Battle has a real shot to take either corners
job, I mean hes a competitive player, head
coach Dick Vermeil said after last Fridays morning
Competition will no doubt make this secondary stronger,
especially at cornerback. While the Chiefs have dependable
starters at safety, cornerback has been a position that
has plagued the defense since they released James Hasty
back in 2001.
The Chiefs search to replace Hasty began with veteran
Ray Crockett in 2001, and then shifted to William Bartee
in 2002, but neither materialized into solid contributors
like they had hoped. Crocketts age and declining
skills prevented him from stabilizing the position, and
Bartee struggled with his ball awareness skills when he
was the starter.
The Chiefs appeared to find a solution at cornerback
when they signed McCleon away from the Rams last year.
He fared much better than the previous two starters -
racking up 5 interceptions and 55 tackles - but the problem
is that he is a much better in zone coverage than in press
coverage and press coverage is something that will be
a fixture of the Chiefs defense this season.
The only constant at cornerback since Hasty retired has
been Warfield. His play has been inconsistent at best
since he signed a lucrative seven-year contract back in
2002. That has continued early on in training camp. One
practice he will look great, the next he will constantly
get beaten by opposing receivers.
While Warfields play has been inconsistent, Battle
has stepped up. He made a great play in practice on Thursday
when he ran stride for stride with receiver Marc Boerigter
and knocked the ball out of his hands after he appeared
to make the catch.
Great plays like that show why Battle has the potential
to make a difference in the Chiefs secondary. He brings
a rare combination of size and blazing speed to the cornerback
position, which are two qualities the Chiefs havent
had since they lost Dale Carter to the Broncos in 1999.
The comparisons between Carter and Battle, who are both
former Tennessee Volunteers, have already begun. Despite
the similarities in speed, size, and swagger, Battle isnt
going to get caught up in that discussion.
Im not going to compare myself to Dale Carter,
yet, Battle said. I havent even started
one game. It would be crazy for me to compare myself to
Maybe those comparisons are a tad crazy right now, but
that just shows how starved the Chiefs are for a consistent
presence at cornerback. If these comparisons eventually
turn out to be accurate, the Chiefs should cross their
fingers and hope that Battle can become like the Carter
who went to four Pro Bowls, and not the one that has gotten
into loads of trouble off the field.
If he can, the Chiefs never-ending search to replace
James Hasty will finally be over.
(Frank Pagnotti covers the Kansas
City Chiefs. He can be reached at FPagnotti@aol.com)