Into the fire


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Jan 22, 2006
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Into the fire
Chiefs’ Edwards won’t hesitate to throw young players into games
The Kansas City Star

Carl Peterson won’t make any promises about specific players or positions the Chiefs might select in next month’s NFL draft.

But Peterson, the Chiefs’ president/general manager, does make this guarantee: New coach Herm Edwards will immediately play at least some of the guys he picks.

“You’ll see how it plays out,” Peterson said, energized by the mere thought. “We feel we’ll be able to come out of the draft with some help. Unlike some of our former coaches, Herm likes to and will play younger players, including rookies.”

Their background and friendship aside, Edwards’ willingness to use younger players was one of the qualities that made him an attractive head-coaching candidate to Peterson. In Edwards’ five seasons as head coach in New York, the Jets were generally among the leaders in numbers of rookies and first-year players and among the lowest in numbers of players 30 and older.

“I don’t really run into a problem having young players play,” Edwards said. “That doesn’t bother me. I’ve done that in Tampa. I’ve done that in New York. I’m going to do it here. If a young player is ready to play, if he’s the best player, if he’s the coachable player, if he’s the available player, if he’s buying into what we ask him to do, he’s going to play.

“We’ll play young guys. You’ve got to be patient with them because they’re going to make mistakes. You’ve got to live with that. I will, because after week eight, they’re going to be better players for it. They won’t get better if you don’t play them.”

Peterson was often frustrated over the years that capable rookies such as halfback Larry Johnson and wide receiver Samie Parker languished on the bench for most or all of the season. His frustration is evident from his not-so-subtle dig above at former coach Dick Vermeil.

Actually, more rookies started for Vermeil in his five seasons with the Chiefs (five) than for Edwards with the Jets (four). Still, there’s no question the Chiefs are aging. They had the most players last season 30 and older (18) and were third in average age (27.62) and NFL experience (5.28).

Edwards stands ready to lead them on a youth movement.

“I don’t think you can keep going down that road,” Edwards said. “You’ve got to develop your own guys and believe in the draft. That’s the way to go because then the guys you’ve got coming into your system are your guys.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a good free agent if one comes available. But I don’t think you rely as heavily on free-agency as you do the draft. I’m not going to say we’re not going to be involved with free-agency. I am saying we’re going to pick and choose.”

Two weeks into the free-agency signing period, the Chiefs haven’t signed a player from another team. They may become more active now that asking prices are coming down.

Still, it’s instructive to take a look at their four known free-agent visitors. Each has since signed elsewhere, but cornerback Will Allen and defensive linemen Rocky Bernard, DeQuincy Scott and Ryan Denney are all 28 or younger and should be headed into the primes of their careers.

The young up-and-comers are the kind of free agents the Chiefs might pursue in the Edwards era.

“If you get a free-agent guy, you want to get him when he’s going into his second contract,” Edwards said. “Those guys are still probably on the way up in their careers. The veteran guy in his third contract, he’s probably leveled off.”

That’s not to say the Chiefs won’t eventually sign the occasional over-30 player, such as cornerback Ty Law. They probably won’t do it as often as they did last year, when they signed safety Sammy Knight (then almost 30) and traded for cornerback Patrick Surtain (then almost 29).

The Chiefs also made an effort to sign other older veterans, such as cornerback Samari Rolle and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.

The youth movement might have claimed its first victim in fullback Tony Richardson, who signed last week as a free agent with Minnesota. Richardson didn’t receive a blockbuster contract from the Vikings, signing for two years and $2.5 million.

Yet the Chiefs obviously didn’t see fit to invest even that amount in a 34-year-old player who, although still productive, is close to the end of his career.

It may happen later this year with 37-year-old deep snapper Kendall Gammon. The Chiefs recently re-signed Gammon to a new contract, but they also added another snapper in Adam Johnson, 26, who with a strong training camp and preseason could nudge Gammon from his job.

Edwards’ history says it might happen.

“We started some young guys every year with the Jets,” Edwards said. “That wasn’t a problem. We just put them out there and let them play. And they weren’t all first-round draft picks.

“We had to go young. We had to get young eventually. You’ve got to commit to that. You’ve got to say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ You can’t be afraid of it. You can’t be afraid to let a veteran guy go early.”
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