Tall task for Chiefs' Wall

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Tall task for Chiefs' Wall

By Rick Dean
The Capital-Journal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's a nickname just waiting to attach itself to Lenny Walls, but the new Chiefs cornerback knows he can't touch it.

Had Ed "Too Tall'' Jones played for anyone other than the Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl teams of the 1970s, Walls might grab the moniker as his own.

Instead, the 6-foot-4 corner, the current leader in the effort to fill Eric Warfield's vacant right cornerback spot in the Chiefs secondary, will have to find some other way to see humor in the notion that overly tall cornerbacks are not nimble enough to keep up with the swift, direction-changing wide receivers of the National Football League.

"Even Gunther Cunningham told me when I first came in that he didn't like taller corners,'' Walls said of his first meeting with Kansas City's defensive coordinator. "But then he saw me move, and that got him excited.''

There was a time when Denver thought so, too. In 2003 the Broncos made Walls -- the NFL's tallest cornerback at the time -- a 16-game starter in just his second pro season. Signed as an undrafted collegian in 2002, Walls deflected 20 passes, the most by a Bronco since 1997, in the 2003 campaign.

But things have never been as good for Walls since then. In 2004 he missed most of training camp after spraining an ankle on Day One. He played in only seven games that year before a separated shoulder knocked him out for the season.

Looking for a new team and a fresh chance in 2006, Walls found an ally in someone with whom he once fought.

New Chiefs secondary coach David Gibbs, a defensive backs coach at Kansas from 1995-96, held the same position in Denver in 2003 when Walls and fellow rookie Kelly Herndon were starting corners on the NFL's sixth-ranked pass defense. Gibbs had seen Walls at his best when healthy and played a role in getting the Chiefs to sign him.

"Gibbs always brought out the best in me,'' Walls said. "We'd actually fight (verbally) from time to time, but he did get it out of me.

"My whole key is staying healthy, period,'' he said. "I really think I can be a big-time player if I can stay on the field and play up to my ability.''

If he can do that, Walls could win a starting spot on the side opposite Patrick Surtain. The competition is wide open now and likely will be through camp. The other contenders are youngsters -- Julian Battle, who is coming off a torn Achilles tendon that cost him a development year in 2005, and Alphonso Hodge, an '05 draftee who spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad.

There are other options, too. Walls already has gotten used to the never-ending talk of the Chiefs' pursuit of veteran corner Ty Law, who was close to new coach Herm Edwards even before recording 10 interceptions with the Jets last year. It doesn't bother Walls that Edwards and Law continue having conversations on a regular basis.

"Look, you need four or five corners who can cover and play for your nickel and dime packages,'' he noted. "So yeah, I agree with those who say we need more people.

"I'm not afraid of competition. I've got to come in here and compete and show I can make plays. I need to do what I do, and that means playing well enough to be a starter, because that's what I am.''

It's an attitude Cunningham wants in a cornerback.

"He's got an upbeat personality. He thinks he can cover anybody,'' Cunningham has said of Walls. "Those are the kind of guys we want.''

NOTES -- Walls has earned enough respect that he is not one of the veteran players the Chiefs have asked to participate in the three-day rookies/new faces camp being conducted this weekend at Arrowhead. The regular spring mini-camp for all players will be conducted next weekend, with a Saturday morning session open to the public.

http://cjonline.com/stories/051506/chi_wall.shtml
 
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