Herm’s motive clear


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Jan 22, 2006
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Minicamp is today
Herm’s motive clear
Defense needs, gets coach’s love
The Kansas City Star

Herm Edwards spent his first few Chiefs practice days openly rooting for the defense when it made a significant play.

In between, he would engage in some good-natured trash-talking on behalf of the defenders with offensive veterans like Trent Green and Dante Hall. They probably will get another earful in a three-day, full-squad minicamp that begins today at the Chiefs’ Truman Sports Complex practice fields.

That’s strange behavior, perhaps, from a head coach. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Chiefs are most definitely frantic to repair their forlorn defense.

So Edwards is unapologetic. Part of the job of fixing the defense is showing his players a little love.

“When guys do things on defense correctly, I’m going to cheer for them,” Edwards said. “I want them to be successful.

“I’ve been messing with the receivers, letting them know that if they go over the middle they better make the catch because guys are going to hit you. I’m having some fun and creating competition within the team. Guys like that. I liked that when I was a player because that’s what happens on Sunday.”

Edwards’ actions are threatening to change, for better or for worse, the dynamics of a team that was all offense under former coach Dick Vermeil.

Vermeil had an offensive background. Two seasons before joining the Chiefs in 2001, his St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl with one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history.

In trying to recreate that winning formula with the Chiefs, Vermeil spent much of his time and energy on offense. He dumped the defense in the lap of his coordinator, first Greg Robinson and later Gunther Cunningham.

The unspoken message: The offense was king, the defense along for the ride. That didn’t slip by the players unnoticed.

“(Vermeil) really didn’t speak to the defense a lot,” linebacker Kendrell Bell said. “It’s great to have somebody who doesn’t want anything but the best for you. For an offensive-minded coach to come over to try to motivate you is conflicting.”

Edwards, a former NFL cornerback, is working to undo all of that. He’s not only speaking to defensive players, but interrupting practice drills to get across some of the finer teaching points.

He also will cheer, as when the defense stuffed back-to-back sweep plays and returned an interception for a touchdown in last week’s rookie camp, or offer a friendly warning to receivers that they’re better off not venturing across the middle.

“Things have changed,” cornerback Patrick Surtain said. “You can see it already. He’s yelling at the receivers, ‘If you’re going to catch that, we’re going to hit you,’ or ‘Don’t come across the middle anymore.’ He’s saying it in a joking way, but our guys need to hear that from the head coach.

“We changed some things around here last year, and they really didn’t work. Maybe he’s the change we need.”

What effect all of this will have on one of the NFL’s most potent offenses is uncertain. So far, nobody appears to be taking Edwards’ actions as a slight.

“We know that’s where his heart lies,” guard Brian Waters said. “He’s the head coach, and it’s his job to get the defense right. We know there’s going to be days he cheers his butt off for the defense. That doesn’t affect what we do. That doesn’t bother us. We’re a veteran group, a group of professionals. We know our job is still to put up points and outscore the other offense.

“If he gets the defense where it needs to be, we’re all going to be better off.”

There’s little debate that it’s good for the defense. As he watched the first few practices unfold, Cunningham emerged upbeat and not necessarily just because of what he saw from his players.

It’s also what he saw from Edwards. As Edwards advocated the defense, Cunningham stood to the side and smiled.

A wildly successful Chiefs defensive coordinator in the 1990s, Cunningham returned two years ago as a conquering hero who would finally fix what ailed the Chiefs. It hasn’t happened in large part because Cunningham was fighting the battle alone.

Now he has a kindred soul in Edwards.

“People will never understand how much that means,” Cunningham said. “This can’t be done unless the head coach is on board. There’s no way you can coach a side of the ball by yourself. You have to have to have a staff with a mind-set like you have, but most of all you have to have a head coach that understands.

“I don’t feel like I’m swimming upriver around here anymore. I’m in the fast lane now.”

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