Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

How Big Of A Liability Is The Chiefs ILB Group?

Stop me when I list a name you recognize: Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, Jamar Chaney, DeMeco Ryans …

Let me guess, you recognized that last one, maybe you’ve heard Stewart Bradley once or twice, but otherwise you have no idea what these guys have in common. This is the list of players that started at middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles since 2007. They have something else in common: none of them are pass rushers – none had more than 2.5 sacks in a season while playing for the Eagles.

Granted, middle linebacker in the 4-3 is a very different position than ILB in a 3-4, but 4-3 MLB’s generally have a lot more asked of them than weak-side 3-4 ILB’s and Reid has been rolling with no-names at the position for a long time.

It is in this context that I want to discuss the biggest question mark on the 2013 Chiefs – the ILB spot next to Derrick Johnson. Last year, it appeared to be the biggest hole on the team. The biggest hole, it turned out, was actually cornerback depth as the Chiefs were rated far and away as the worst team in the league against three-receiver sets according to the Football Outsiders.

The Chiefs’ #2 and #3 CB spots seem to be well filled with Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, respectively. But, ILB remains a bit of a mystery. The team pulled in ex-Eagle Akeem Jordan and drafted Nico Johnson (Roll Tide) in the 4th.

First off, while Jordan has been banded about as essentially a special-teamer, he actually saw significant time playing on both the weak side and strong side as a starter in Philly. In his 14 games last season, he made 44 tackles, while Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali racked up 51 in 15 games in KC.

Jordan also had a pretty good year in 2009, in which he only played in 12 games, but still managed to make 71 tackles, a sack and 2 interceptions. He also laid this hit on the much bigger FB Mike Sellers, that year, leading the team in tackles at the time.

We have yet to see what DC Bob Sutton’s imported defense will call on the ILB’s to do, but he also dealt with no-name guys in New York with the both middle spots held by the mix of Demarrio Davis, Bart Scott and David Harris in recent years.

It seems to me that the Chiefs brought in an average player to fill a spot in the scheme that requires a non-flashy role-player. That should not alarm anyone.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Still, it could be better.

So what do we have in Nico Johnson? This is where I am a bit worried.  There wasn’t much buzz about Nico leading up to the draft as he was one of the more under-the-radar guys on a stout Alabama defense. Honestly, after taking a closer look, I still don’t see what the organization saw in this guy as the only two bits of easily available tape on him are bits from ‘Bama’s games against Tennessee and LSU. Nico did not flourish in either. In fact, the only time his name is mentioned in the LSU game is for blowing coverages twice. He did nothing noteworthy outside of that. It does appear that he has some good overall diagnostic instincts and is by all accounts a great character guy, but he does not look ready for prime time.

The overall talent at the second ILB spot was never great in recent years with Jovan Belcher and Brandon Siler, but it’s hard to see it much improved by Jordan and Zac Diles. Ourlads has Johnson lined up behind DJ as depth, and may be looked at as a successor down the road. That is probably the best place for him for now.

The real question in all of this is: How much does this matter? This defense will not go as the ILB’s go; the biggest battles are going to be fought around this player. Whoever lines up beside DJ will be tasked with fighting blockers and closing gaps. Now that the Chiefs have a good CB trio, he really shouldn’t be on the field on obvious passing downs.

Still, Desmond Bishop would have been a really great get.

I also think we’re going to see a fundamental change in how the rest of the team’s defensive personnel is used. The Jets over the years have been known for bringing pressure from everywhere. Romeo Crennel’s schemes meanwhile, usually called for strict roles to be played and responsibilities to be followed.

The impact on DJ’s career was obvious. In 2006 and 2007, he had 4 sacks and 4.5 sacks respectively. He also had his career high number of stuffs in 2007 – 16 for 48 yards. But after Scott Pioli took over, bringing his “Patriots Way” wisdom, both his sacks and stuffs disappeared. In the four years since 2009, DJ notched just 6 sacks and 28 stuffs.

DJ is one of many players on this defense that I am looking forward to seeing the new regime let loose.

All of this brings us back to the other ILB spot. Will opposing teams target him? Absolutely. Whoever it is will be the easily the least talented member of the Chiefs stellar linebacking corps. But, how much will it affect the team’s ability to get it done on the field? My guess is that it will be manageable. You can’t have a pro bowler at every position (except on my Madden Chiefs squad).

What say you, Addicts? Are you worried about ILB?

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Tags: Akeem Jordan Derrick Johnson Nico Johnson Zac Diles

  • Danny W

    I wouldn’t call it worried but it is suspect. Worst case scenario DJ goes down and we are in horrible trouble down the pipe of our defense. We will be trying to pull Brian Urlacher out of retirement I would say. I say you have to be the best you can possibly be at every position to win it all.

    • NicholasAlanClayton

      If DJ went down for the season, I actually would be surprised if we didn’t give Urlacher a call.

  • tm1946

    Worried, not so sure LB is the area of concern. Now if you are concerned about the DL, worried is a usable word. If you look at WR and say worried, again usable. For a few, backup at QB or OL depth but LB, not as much.
    Guess we can worry about every position, coach, or executive, we have not played a game yet but got to keep breathing until then.

  • Jordan

    I’m cautiously optimistic(now commonplace for all things chiefs these days) about the defense without Romeo. The defense was more conservative than a Texas republican but bar last year we saw some success with it had we had an offense to pair with it things may have looked even better. Sutton seems just the opposite with players blitzing from everywhere there are going to be bigger holes out on the field than in the past that the corners safeties and ILBs haven’t had to account for as frequently. I believe we need a definite coverage guy or a guaranteed thumper next to DJ to help even out the inside guys and have DJ fill whatever the other is not.

  • Calvin Jones

    I think critics are doing exactly what John Dorsey and Andy Reid want them to do and that’s under estimate and sleep on the hard-nosed blue-collar players that they have brought in the 2013 off season. Nico Johnson is the hard-nosed run stopping thumper that we need at the linebacker position. I also believe that this article is the fuel that he will need to make him the next NFL heir to Ray Lewis. Teams don’t have to be scared but they should definitely be cautious!

  • ladner morse

    I agree Nicholas. Good post. While I was hoping for Bishop too… I think there may be other talented ILBs being released during camp and I hope the Chiefs will have the cap space to go after them when the opportunity comes.

  • KCtitleist11

    Bishop wouldve been an awesome pick cap right before training camp

  • Stacy D. Smith

    It’s certainly not a strong point, but I’m not worried. Jordan’s a serviceable option. I’m still holding out hope that Johnson wins the job though.

  • cheryl juby

    I know this is unrelated to this article. I got a new ipad and am having trouble reading the comments on this site. Could someone please tell me what they do. I’m not very smart when it comes to new devices. Thanks

    • Austin Wagner

      Are you using the Fansided app?

  • kcpauly

    This guy looks like a black Wolverine, why would you not be scared of him, I think he will prove to be a solid player, I am hoping he wins the job and crushes some running backs, so that they will not want to even look in his direction again, nice read Nicholas, Go Chiefs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • FaAmos

    KC losing its second round in the Alex Smith trade prevented us from either getting a solid DE or ILB next to DJ, now if Smith becomes a solid answer at QB then it was worth it but with us most likely having to send next years second round pick to San Fran again is going to hamper KC in filling its three biggest holes which are ILB and Left and Right DE’s. if KC can land solid players to fill our ILB and DE positions then we’ll have the makings of a truly solid front seven with the potential to create one of the leagues best front sevens if we can find some all start potential to replace our weakness at our DE’s and ILB and if we move Robinson to SS and Berry to FS along with Flowers and Smith at Corner moving Robinson to nikel in Nikel downs and Sanders Commings to SS we could have a defense that ranks up there with the Niners and Seahawks

  • scomstock55

    I say we beef up one of our safeties or backup corners…anyone except berry…and give them a shot at the ILB position…maybe sanders commings? or try lewis down there and let commings play safety….just brainstorming…