Archive for Sunday, September 21, 2008

Young teams to meet

September 21, 2008

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— The question seemed to stump John Abraham.

What's that? The Kansas City Chiefs are the youngest team in the NFL?

Abraham just shook his head as he stood at his locker, looking around at all the new kids in the Atlanta Falcons locker room.

"If they're the youngest, we're damn near close," Abraham said. "We've got a lot of young guys, too."

Abraham, the defensive end in his ninth year, is one of the few veterans who was spared as the Falcons' new leaders, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, overhauled the roster in the offseason.

Many of the team's most accomplished players were cut or traded: Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman, Warrick Dunn, DeAngelo Hall, Joe Horn and Joey Harrington.

The Falcons replaced the veterans with an 11-member draft class, topped by two first-round picks, quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive tackle Sam Baker. Ryan, Baker and linebacker Curtis Lofton, a second-round pick, are starters.

Cornerback Chevis Jackson plays in five defensive back sets, and Harry Douglas is the third receiver, so Smith considers five rookies to be starters.

Yet the Falcons (1-1) have more experienced players than the 0-2 Chiefs. Kansas City has 15 rookies and 32 players with no more than three years of experience.

According to the NFL's survey of opening day rosters, the Chiefs' average age was 25.57, matching Green Bay for the youngest in the league. Atlanta's average age was 26.55.

The Chiefs are expected to start three rookies, including left tackle Branden Albert, who will line up against Abraham, the three-time Pro Bowl pick who already has four sacks.

The Chiefs also plan to start two rookie cornerbacks, second-round pick Brandon Flowers and fifth-round choice Brandon Carr, who will replace injured veteran Patrick Surtain.

Albert will try to protect second-year quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who is expected to make his first start. Thigpen played behind Damon Huard in last week's 23-8 loss to Oakland. The 24-year-old Thigpen was 14-for-33 for 151 yards in the Chiefs' 11th straight regular-season defeat.

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