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IN SEVEN seasons with the Dolphins, Patrick Surtain distinguished himself with 29 interceptions and two Pro Bowl appearances, earning a place among the elite cornerbacks in the league. Now he's looking to do bigger things for the Chiefs. He wants to have the same impact in Kansas City that wideout Terrell Owens had in his first season in Philadelphia last year. Surtain wants to be known by Chiefs fans as the player who helped get the franchise over the hump and into a Super Bowl for the first time since 1969.
That's the situation Surtain was looking for after the Dolphins gave him permission to seek a trade in the off-season. He liked what he saw in Kansas City: a player's coach in Dick Vermeil, an aggressive defensive coordinator in Gunther Cunningham, a balanced offense that can score points in bunches and, best of all, the potential for the Chiefs to be a Super Bowl contender. Winners of 11 of its first 12 games in 2003 en route to taking the AFC West, Kansas City stumbled out of the blocks 1--4 last year and wound up a disappointing 7--9. The Chiefs traded a second-round pick for Surtain in the days leading up to the draft. "I knew they were right on the cusp of doing great things, and I wanted to be part of [getting Kansas City back on top]," Surtain says. "I'm hoping that when people talk about how the Chiefs changed their ways, they automatically start thinking about me."
The 5'11", 192-pound Surtain is the most significant addition to a unit that ranked 29th in the NFL in scoring defense, 31st in total defense and last in pass defense. He's a physical defender who loves to jam receivers, and he's an underrated tackler in run support. Most important to Cunningham, who likes to call aggressive blitz packages, Surtain excels in man coverage. Since the start of the 2000 season he has picked off 25 passes, third best in the league. The Chiefs haven't had a cornerback of his caliber since James Hasty and Dale Carter lined up in the secondary in the mid-1990s. "He allows us to focus on what the 10 other guys on defense need to be doing," Vermeil says. "With his ability and attitude, he really brings an air of confidence and leadership to that side of the ball."
Kansas City was so happy to get Surtain, it signed him to the largest contract in team history: seven years, $51 million, including a $6.25 million signing bonus. In training camp he showed immediately that he was worth the investment. Defensive tackle Lional Dalton was impressed at seeing Surtain break on passes before receivers made their cuts. Cunningham watched his new cornerback call out a receiver's pattern before the ball was snapped. Rarely, says the coordinator, has Surtain been wrong on his reads.
What makes Surtain special, according to teammates, is the combination of his gambler's nature and awareness of what's going on around him. "Patrick is so smart that he could easily play safety," says strong safety Sammy Knight, who played two years with Surtain in Miami and also joined the Chiefs (as a free agent) in the off-season. "He knows how people are trying to attack him, and he also knows everybody else's job on the field. Most cornerbacks aren't like that, but that's Patrick--he loves learning the game."
What's more, Surtain is only one of several improvements to the defense. Knight is a hard-hitting, cerebral veteran who should settle a secondary that suffered repeated communication breakdowns last season. The linebackers will be more athletic with the addition of Kendrell Bell, a free agent late of the Steelers, and Derrick Johnson, a rookie first-round draft choice out of Texas, starting at the outside spots. The presence of those four players restores Cunningham's confidence in his blitz packages, which he was reluctant to call during last year's disaster.
It's Cunningham's goal to restore the defense to the dominance that marked the Chiefs in the mid- to late '90s. Last season Kansas City forced 21 turnovers, tied for fourth worst in the league and the fewest in franchise history. The feeling on the team is that the number will increase dramatically in '05. As Surtain says, "With all the talent we've brought in, we're not looking to get better down the road. We're looking to get better right now." -- Jeffri Chadiha
Dante Hall is the NFL's most dangerous return man. Two years ago he set an NFL record by scoring on a kick or punt return in four consecutive games, and last season he added two more runbacks for touchdown to his highlight tape. Now the Chiefs are creating additional opportunities for the sixth-year veteran to explode downfield. Along with the same punt- and kick-return duties, the 5'8", 187-pound Hall will regularly line up as a third or fourth wideout.