The Kansas City Chiefs are intensely focused during training camp on finding the right 53 players to complete their roster. This search includes finding a vital subset within the squad, which if successful, could quickly help turn a bad team in 2009 into a seriously competitive one in 2010.
Two years ago, the Chiefs announced they were a 3-4 defensive team, although they lacked the three linemen, or the four linebackers, needed to make it work successfully. The secondary has garnered recent attention by adding quality draft picks to play along side its talented, young corners. The verdict is still out for the defensive line with two first round prospects, but without a dominating nose tackle.
So, what about the guys in the middle of the defensive unit? Are the Chiefs any closer to finding the right four to stabilize the defense for years to come? They may not have the right four for a championship team yet, but there’s good reason to believe the Chiefs will start four LB’s this year who will make the defense better.
Last year the Chiefs started with Tambi Hali and Mike Vrabel on the outside. Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams started on the inside. We should expect these four to change with the exception of Hali. With a full season under his belt, he’s primed to improve on his 8.5 sacks and 62 tackles from last year. That was the highest season sack total for the team and placed him in the top five in team tackles – so he’s in.
The biggest push for the starting lineup coming out of OTA’s and training camp, seems to be coming from Derrick Johnson. He appears to be making good on his “guarantee” to be one of the Chief’s starting linebackers this year. We all know he’s a play-maker. The defense would get a tremendous boost by consistent play from him this year. Some of us were baffled with last year’s demotion of the Texas University standout. Many of us feel he’s belonged in the starting lineup all along. Now with more experience playing in the new scheme, it’s looking like he may be prepared for the breakout year we all want to see.
Based on their mediocre play from last year, Mays and Williams could be seeing themselves fulfilling a backup role this year. I don’t think Vrabel’s declining skills will keep him in the starting role. If rookie Cameron Sheffied lives up to his perceived potential, this would provide an experienced unit to rotate in every week, which would go a long way to strengthen the LB squad overall. So, who would the starters be on the inside? This may sound crazy, but the Chiefs coaching staff may just be high enough on Andy Studebaker to move him inside. Don’t be surprised if has Jovan Belcher lines up next to him, as he’s continuing the momentum he built last year.
That would mean the Chiefs move Johnson back on the outside – where I think he really wants to be. The starters would then end up being Hali, Studebaker, Belcher, and Johnson. Nothing coming out of Chiefs camp is indicating that this is even a possibility, but if Todd Haley is as committed as he says to getting the best players on the field, it just might happen. These four could be better in coverage, against the run, and might even put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
What do you think Addicts? Of the 13 linebackers currently on the roster, who do you think are going to be our starters on opening day?