KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -The pride of Coastal Carolina is stepping up in class.
Injury, uncertainty and Kansas City's fervent desire to develop young players have thrust Tyler Thigpen from third-team quarterback to starter for Sunday's game at Atlanta.
To some fans of the Chiefs (0-2), it's a welcome sign that management is serious about biting the bullet and building for the future. To others, it's an admission the season is already doomed.
But for a 24-year-old stuck deep on the bench and with an NFL experience until last week consisting solely of six passes, it is a ``dream come true.''
``It's a great feeling,'' said Thigpen, the first player from Coastal Carolina selected in the NFL draft. ``It's something you dreamed of as a kid and the actuality is here now.''
ignated quarterback of the future.
In seven starts, Brodie Croyle has had three injuries. A separated shoulder sustained in the season opener is expected to keep him out at least one more week, if not longer.
Career backup Damon Huard, who started last week's game against Oakland but came out with a stiff neck, is 35 and not in anybody's long-term plans.
So the door has suddenly swung wide open for a native of Winnsboro, S.C., who didn't even play quarterback his senior year in high school. If Thigpen does well in his first NFL start, Croyle could meet with unexpected competition for the job everybody thought he owned.
``Look around the league. This is the way this league works,'' Thigpen said. ``Guys get hurt all the time. It's an opportunity for me to step in there and perform and get us a win.''
A sturdy 6-foot-1, 220-pounder, Thigpen has shown a quick release and a strong arm. There is some question about his touch, but his mobility fits the bootlegs and rollouts the Chiefs are trying to feature in a new offense specifically designed for Croyle.
Coach Herm Edwards, while insisting the Chiefs are doing all they can to avoid an 0-3 start, also admits he's eager to get a look at the former small-college quarterback who came into the league as a seventh-round draft choice of Minnesota.
``We're constantly trying to evaluate players,'' Edwards said. ``We say we're trying to grow a quarterback. When do you grow them? You can't grow them unless they play. And he needs to play.''
In his only extended action since throwing for 6,598 yards and 53 touchdowns in college, Thigpen was 14-for-33 after coming off the bench in a 23-8 loss to Oakland last week. Several of his first few passes glanced off defender's hands before he settled down and threw a 2-yard TD pass to Tony Gonzalez. He also threw an interception.
``That was a game for me to get warmed up in a way,'' he said. ``I get a feel for how the NFL works. I got a little time last year. It wasn't much. So it was nice to go out there and go against those guys and see the live bullets coming at you.''
He and Gonzalez, who needs only 85 yards receiving to set the NFL tight end record, have been putting in overtime, trying to get a feel for one another. He also expects the Falcons to test a young quarterback.
``Me being a young guy, I imagine they'll probably try to bring some different stuff at me to try to confuse me,'' he said. ``But we're going to stick to our game plan and get the ball out of my hands and let our playmakers make plays.
``I'm going to go down there with confidence and know I'm the starting quarterback and there's no reason to put any extra pressure on myself.''

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