How much do we really know about the Chiefs' new defense?
Missing In Action
After the Chiefs' most recent session of OTAs got underway on Monday, a lot of fans seem to have that question on their minds. Every veteran player on the team was present and accounted for at the workouts except for Vrabel and Brian Waters, whose tiff with the new front office has been well-documented.
This marks the second time that Vrabel has missed a Chiefs' minicamp. Along with Waters and the now-departed Tony Gonzalez, Vrabel was also absent from the proceedings just over a month ago when the team held a weekend of pre-draft practices.
Vrabel, as we all know, was acquired from the New England Patriots in the same trade that brought Matt Cassel to Kansas City. But other than a conference call with the media about a week after the trade, the former Pro Bowl linebacker hasn't been seen or heard from. Well, at least not in Kansas City.
The good news is that Vrabel hasn't completely disappeared off the face of the Earth. This past weekend he was on the campus of Marshall University for a youth football camp run by his former New England teammate Troy Brown.
Coaching and mentoring youngsters on the game of football is certainly a worthy way of spending his time. But one can't help thinking Vrabel might be able to accomplish some of those same goals if he showed up for a few practices with his new Chiefs teammates.
When the trade for Vrabel was first announced, even before the other shoe dropped with Cassel, the move was praised by most due to the leadership and professionalism the linebacker would bring to the young Chiefs' roster. The linebacker position is one of the few areas on the team that isn't infused with youth, but as the Chiefs transition into playing a 3-4 defense, Vrabel's knowledge and experience will be invaluable.
But he'll actually have to show up now and then for any of that to rub off.
As is the norm under the new regime, the Chiefs have said nothing about Vrabel's absences, other than an acknowledgment that they aren't unexpected. So it's only natural that all sorts of speculation has arisen.
Perhaps Vrabel is frustrated about being traded from the always-contending Patriots to the 2-14 Chiefs? Could it be that he wants nothing to do with his new team, or wants to be rewarded for his sacrifice with a new contract? Maybe he plans to retire rather than finish his career playing for a rebuilding team?
Certainly, there has to be some truth to the notion that Vrabel is disappointed. It's only natural, after all. But if you take his post-trade comments at face value – where he spoke of being excited and looking forward to a new opportunity – such concerns seem to be slightly overblown.
Vrabel even made a point of saying that if he wasn't excited, it would be disrespectful to the Chiefs and their fans. He didn't sound like a player who's trying to send a message about his unhappiness, and didn't sound like someone considering retirement, stating he knew he had more football left in him.
Other speculation has centered on Vrabel's health. Though the rumors were denied, he reportedly played with a bad shoulder last season, and there were even claims that it may be bad enough to require offseason surgery. If he's still recuperating from the shoulder injury, he might not be able to participate in practices yet.
Of course, there are several others Chiefs nursing injuries, and all have been present. So that wouldn't appear to explain Vrabel's absences, either.
What we haven't considered is that Vrabel is a long-time NFL veteran, so it wouldn't be surprising if he felt like missing a few OTA sessions. Let's also not forget that these early sessions have been voluntary – Vrabel won't be required to attend for another two weeks.
Still, since Vrabel's absences have linked his name to Gonzalez and Waters – two players clear about their desire to play elsewhere – it feels like a slightly inauspicious start for a player brought to the Chiefs for his leadership.
But there's no reason to worry just yet. If Vrabel reports as scheduled in two weeks, he'll end up having ample time with his new teammates and all of this will be long forgotten by the time the season starts.
If he continues to be missing in action, however, it could become a bigger story as we head into the summer.
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