RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- There are two ways to look at the fact the Kansas City Chiefs have 27 rookies in their training camp and that many of them are going to be on the final roster, including at least four starters.
One is through the eyes of a long-time observer. And those eyes -- which have witnessed countless young players suffer through growing pains -- see a team that is likely in for a lonnng season.
The other perspective is the one seen by the man who has to coach all of these kids.
"It's been refreshing, it's been a lot of energy," Herman Edwards said. "We've got a bunch of (assistant) coaches who are teachers, and these guys are teaching fundamental football. We're going back to old, basic football. And these guys are eager to learn, and that's the fun part."
Several of the Chiefs' veteran players have noticed a definite increase in the tempo of practices. Younger players not only tend to have a little more spring in their step, but they also tend to perform with a greater degree of exuberance. They're too young to view the camp routine as drudgery, which is the way most veterans view it. They are trying to make their mark. And they like nothing better than making a veteran teammate look, well, old in the process.
"Every day we go out there, I know I've got to bring it -- just because these young guys that are out there are trying to prove a point, which is what they should be doing," said Gonzalez, who is entering his 12th NFL season at age 32. "It keeps me on my toes, and I think it's going to help us be a better football team in the long run."
"You never know what to expect when you have a whole bunch of rookies," said offensive guard Brian Waters, who is beginning his ninth year in the NFL. "You never know what their attitude's going to be. You never know if they're going to get tired quickly or if they're going to complain or if they're going to be scatter-brained all the time. But I think our coaching staff and our personnel group has done a really good job of getting some guys who really like football. They really want to play and they really want to get better."
Among the youngsters are four projected starters -- first-round draft pick Glenn Dorsey at defensive tackle, first-rounder Branden Albert at offensive tackle, second-rounder Brandon Flowers at cornerback, and undrafted free agent Mike Cox at fullback. Dorsey missed the Chiefs' preseason opener against Chicago with a knee sprain, but has returned to practice and could make his summer debut against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday. Albert has a sprained foot and could miss the balance of the preseason, but he is assured of being the Chiefs' No. 1 left tackle when he returns.
Safety DaJuan Morgan, a third-round choice, and cornerback Brandon Carr, a fifth-rounder, also could crack the starting lineup before the end of the season.
"It's a good atmosphere," Dorsey said of the youthful presence in camp. "I think everybody is full of excitement and energy. You don't see too many guys moping around like they're tired."
With so many players who have zero NFL experience, mistakes are plentiful in workouts. But the rookies aren't the only ones making them. The Chiefs have a new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, who has installed a new scheme that is just as unfamiliar to veteran players as it is to the youngsters. There also have been some tweaks to the Kansas City defense that veterans need to work every bit as hard to absorb as the rookies.
"It's good that we're all kind of learning at the same pace," Waters said. "When we're all making mistakes, it kind of helps the young guys realize that everybody makes mistakes, so they can bounce back quicker."
Gonzalez goes out of his way to offer instruction to his younger teammates. Sometimes he provides advice as he did on Monday when a rookie approached him to ask how to handle the frustration of getting limited practice time.
Part of Gonzalez's willingness to help is that he is secure with the fact he is one of the all-time best players at his position. Part of it is because he knows it is good for the team's overall fortunes.
And part of it, perhaps the largest part, is because he wants his impact on the league to go beyond statistics.
"I've only got a couple of years left to play this game, and I feel like I've got to leave more than just what I did on the field," Gonzalez said. "I want to leave something for off the field and help these guys get better as players."
For Gonzalez, that includes working with rookie tight end Brad Cottam, a third-round draft pick who hadn't even reached his 13th birthday when Gonzalez began his NFL career.
"With Brad, any time that he wants to talk to me, we're talking," said Gonzalez. "And sometimes he doesn't come ask me; I go to him. I say things like, 'You need to make sure you get your pads low' … 'After you catch the ball, you need to turn upfield.'
"After practice, we're catching balls. I tell him, 'Let's go to the weight room every day.' It's not like I'm asking him to do something that I won't. And for the most part, he does it, but sometimes those young guys don't want to get in there. They're a little lazy, but that's how it goes."
That won't cut it with Edwards and that is why the teaching that he and his assistants do doesn't end with Xs and Os. They make it a point to address how the rookies carry themselves as men, in addition to how they carry themselves as players.
"The character means a lot," Edwards said. "The things you do and how you react to certain things are important, because that kind of tells you about how you're going to react in a game as a football player. It all coincides. And I think these guys understand that.
"We always talk about the trust factor, be accountable to each other. You have to do that when you've got young guys. You tell them, 'You've got to know it's not just about you; it's about the other 10 guys that are playing with you. It's about the 53 that are going to be here.' That's something we're always trying to impress on them."
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