|Trent Green finished with a 71.1 passer rating last season, but he's off to a good start in 2002.(AP)|
You know the one: Who was that guy who got hurt in the preseason, opening the door for Kurt Warner to go from grocery-store stock boy to walking a golden path to Canton?
Green lives with that every day.
It didn't help that his 2001 season, his first as a starter since blowing out his knee in 1999, was far from what was expected. When Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, the coach who had traded to get Green in St. Louis, decided to bring him to Kansas City last April, he envisioned Warner-like numbers.
Vermeil and offensive coordinator Al Saunders saw big passing numbers, saw high-scoring games and saw Green becoming the player that had Warner playing the role of little-known reserve three summers ago.
Instead they got a damaged player who threw 24 interceptions, the most in the league, and finished with a dismal 71.1 passer rating. That prompted questions about whether Vermeil was wrong in showing loyalty to his former St. Louis Rams player.
That's why 2002 is so important for Green and the Chiefs. He has looked good so far in the preseason, leading the Chiefs' first-team offense to three scores -- two touchdowns and a field goal in their three possessions. Against the Houston Texans on Saturday night, he looked like the pre-injury Green, a player who looked confident and sure in the pocket.
Green completed 7 of 10 passes for 73 yards before sitting down for the night in the Chiefs' victory at Arrowhead Stadium. What's more impressive than the numbers is the way he put them up.
He got 27 of them on a dig route to Johnny Morton, the key free-agent signing who is expected to be the go-to receiver. Green also hit Eddie Kennison for 17 yards over the middle. Both times he made crisp throws, which wasn't always the case last season.
What was even better was that they went to the right jersey color. Those interceptions he threw last season led some to wonder if it might have some impact on his psyche this season. According to some, it has had an impact on his attitude.
Always viewed as an easy-going, accommodating sort, Green has been different in this camp. Those who cover the team say he's been testy and short. Perhaps 24 interceptions can do that to a guy.
Vermeil, whose neck is a bit on the line for making the deal to acquire Green, has never wavered in his support. The Chiefs pointed to two things as reasons for Green's struggles. One was his health, the other was a less-than-special group of receivers.
Green had cleanup surgery on his injured left knee early last year and was unable to take part in the offseason program, which led to his developing poor mechanics, according to Chiefs coaches. He is healthy again, which has given hope to a big 2002 season.
"For the first time he's been healthy," said Saunders. "Last year he didn't throw a football until the beginning of training camp. He's gone through a whole offseason program. A major part of the quarterback performance level is confidence, confidence in the people around you."
The lack of a skilled big-play receiver forced him to rely too much on tight end Tony Gonzalez in the passing game. Thankfully running back Priest Holmes emerged as the NFL's leading rusher and had more yards from scrimmage than any player in the league.
If not for Holmes, Green would have taken even more heat.
Holmes is back on the field, again showing his stuff against the Texans by scampering in for a 10-yard touchdown run to cap the first drive. Can he repeat last season's numbers? Probably not since he will be a marked man, but if Green can come through he will help make the defense play honest, limiting the eighth man in the box.
For Green to be effective, the Chiefs have to get Gonzalez into camp. He has been missing in a contract dispute that has bordered on ugly. He wants a new deal, but the Chiefs are balking unless he gives up his NBA aspirations, which are crazy to begin with.
Gonzalez and Chiefs president Carl Peterson have fired verbal shots at each other in the media, which hasn't helped the situation. Peterson is also trying to get first-round pick Ryan Sims signed, a player the Chiefs expect to be a key player in the middle of their defense.
Sims is the ninth holdout of the Chiefs' past 12 first-round picks, tainting Peterson's reputation a bit. Peterson has bragged about what a tough negotiator he is, but with a team that some think will compete in the AFC West, he'd be better advised to find a way to get his best player and his top draft pick into camp.
"He's (Gonzalez) the best tight end in the league," said Green. "We need him here. Hopefully that can get done quick."
It's even more important to Green since he is in a contract year. The Chiefs say they are committed to him, but so far there is no new deal on the table. It could end up being a season-long distraction.
Green said he isn't worried about it. But he has been a different person this season, not the easy-going sort he was when he was with the Rams.
His teammates, though, say they haven't seen the shaky side.
"He's totally comfortable, that's the thing I like about him," said Morton. "He can take any situation and I can see the swagger in his eyes. He's confident."
The passing game looked sharp against the Texans, but it was simplistic football at its best. There was nothing too elaborate on either side of the ball. It has been better, which is what the Chiefs want.
Having a better group of receivers will help.
"Trent knows the system," said Saunders. "He's been in the system for seven years. What he needed was people on the perimeter that were going to be in the right place at the right time. It's much better than it was last year. Consequently, it reflects on Trent's decision making because he's able to make decisions quicker."
"The good thing is the injury thing," said Green. "Last year at this time we had different receivers all the time. We didn't have much timing and I was coming off the injury and getting back into the swing of things. The timing is much further along."
The timing is now for Green. If he reverts to the interception machine he was a year ago, the Chiefs will be in big trouble. Those visions of a Rams West that Vermeil had could go poof in the night.
The walking, talking trivia answer might never live down the events of three summers ago, when a low hit by Rodney Harrison of the Chargers changed the fate of the Rams and perhaps gave birth to a Hall of Fame career.
That player was Kurt Warner. You remember? The player who replaced that guy? You know, that guy.
Will it ever go away?