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Aug 24, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Catapano (53) on the field before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Boom or Bust: Mike Catapano The Pass Rusher

Throughout the off season we will highlight some key players who need to make “a leap” in their quality of play for the Chiefs to make the playoffs in 2014. We’ll call this feature “Boom or Bust.”

John Dorsey loves him some Mike Catapano.

A seventh round pick from last year’s draft, Catapano represents a group of “sleepers” on the Chiefs’ roster who could provide a significant impact for the 2014 Chiefs. If things go the way Dorsey expects, Catapano will be part of the defensive line pass rushing depth the Chiefs so desperately need.

Here’s a clip from of what Dorsey had to say about Catapano from KCChiefs.com:

“Everybody knows he was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Ivy League,” Dorsey said. “What separates him is his intestinal fortitude, his drive, and his effort. When I called him up on the phone and said, ‘Would you want to be the 207th pick in the NFL draft?’ and he goes, ‘I’m not going to let you down, Mr. Dorsey.’ I mean, he’s one of those guys. He’s very passionate about the game. So, he’s going to give you everything he’s got and he’s got enough size and ability to compete.”

Dorsey has been touting Catapano all off season, starting at the NFL Combine back in February. The Princeton grad is 6-3, 290 with a 40 time around 4.75. He’s strong (33 reps of 225 at his pro day), quick (7.09 three-cone), and powerful (9-8 broad jump). There are a lot of raw skills there to suggest he can be a successful defensive lineman in the NFL even if 6-3 is a little bit undersized.

Seth Keysor of Arrowhead Pride came away impressed with him, too.

 I went in with pretty low expectations and came away… well, impressed. In fact, by my count Catapano had multiple “hurries” that PFF missed (again, it’s a very subjective stat).  He’s active. He’s fast. He’s (kinda) powerful. He seems to have a good grasp on the game mentally. I really liked what I saw out of his pass rushing snaps.

Kansas City received next to nothing from their defensive line in the pass rushing game in 2013, and really hasn’t had a good pass rushing defensive lineman since Jared Allen was traded and the team switched to a 3-4 defense. The need for an interior pass rush is critical if the Chiefs are going to take another step forward in 2014.

We talk a lot about the need for the Chiefs to improve their coverage in the secondary, particularly at safety. This is a fair assessment. However, no secondary in the NFL can cover well consistently if there is no pass rush from the defensive front seven. Kansas City’s second half pass rush was virtually non-existent, which happened to coincide with the defense’s inability to cover.

Pro Football Focus credited the Chiefs with 49 sacks in 2013, of which 38 of them came in the first nine games of the season. Breaking it down further, six of the 11 sacks the Chiefs totaled in the final seven regular season games occurred in the Washington game and three more came in the season finale against San Diego. So in five of the final seven games the Chiefs amassed three sacks, and only one the two games against Denver.

This is where Catapano is key. The Chiefs made a move in free agency to improve their pass rush by signing Vance Walker to a deal to replace Tyson Jackson, so the starting defensive line should be more productive in the pass rushing game. But Kansas City needs depth and they do not have much cap space or many draft picks to use to add depth. If Catapano cannot pair with Allen Bailey as the designated pass rusher the defensive line needs then the Chiefs are going to be in a tough spot.

Dorsey seems to have faith Catapano will be the guy.

“He’s one of those relentless warriors you want on your team. I’m excited to see him contribute as we go forward here in the second season for him. I’ve always said all along that those guys make the greatest strides in year one to year two, and I can see great strides coming from Catapano.”

Let’s hope so.

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