K.C. Chiefs Defense: Bubble Trouble

1 Feature From The Bleachers

There’s a flood of bubble trouble coming and it’s nearly here. Of the approximately 2,880 football players in camps around the NFL, 480 of them will be cut 10 days from today, on August 26th. Four days later, 704 NFL hopefuls will be waived so that gets each team can down to the mandatory magic of 53.

In the meantime, the Kansas City Chiefs defense has it’s own fair share of players with plenty of bubble trouble to worry about. Let take a look at the players dancing on the edge.

Defensive Linemen in question: Jaye Howard, Kyle Love, Kona Schwenke, Jermelle Cudjo, and Jarius Campbell.

Until the first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals 9 days ago, Jaye Howard was not in the average Chiefs fan vocabulary. A solid game plus a few outstanding plays later, and many are buzzing about Howard. When the Chiefs first picked him up on September 1st, one day after the Seahawks cut him (after having drafted Howard 114th overall in the 2012 draft) I did some research in him and like what I saw. Jaye Howard would often be the first player off the ball. Being quick for a big man is an excellent quality to possess but it can get you into trouble with QBs who do a good job of mixing up the count and can manipulate with their hard counts too. However, I watched Howard closely in the Bengals game and he did a very good job of holding back and waiting until the ball was snapped, and still came off the ball first in most instances. The other quality I like about Jaye Howard is — and I remember thinking this a year ago when I watched tape on him then — that he has excellent hands. Meaning, he can win battles in the trenches by using good hand placement and he can break free using his hands to make a play. You could see him use those skills on his sack in the Bengals game. If Howard can have another solid preseason game starting in place of Mike DeVito, he should lock up a position on the roster.

Kyle Love is a young and developing interior defensive lineman who has three good years of experience in a high quality system. Love made the new England Patriots roster as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and after being a part time starter that season played in all 16 games in 2011 and 2012. Following the 2011 season Love not only gained playoff experience but played in the Super Bowl, although it was a four point loss to the Giants (21-17).  Then in the 2012 season Love did the same starting in all 16 games and playing throughout the playoffs only the Patriots couldn’t get past the Ravens in the AFC Championship game (of course the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl two weeks later). In the meantime, Kyle Love picked up valuable experience but the Pats waived him the following spring. The Pats signed DT Tommy Kelly (9 years experience with the Raiders) on April 8th and cut Love on May 15th. I guess the Pats loved Kelly more than they loved Love. In all, Love has started 41 games: 41 for New England and 1 for Jacksonville totaling with 69 tackles and 5.5 sacks in that span. I think Kyle Love would make an excellent backup to Dontari Poe and if the Chiefs had to choose someone to give Poe a rest now and again, I believe Love can save the day. If it came down to choosing between Love and Howard, I’d take Howard. I just like his hand-to-hand combat skills better. However, I think the Chiefs could keep both.

Kona Schwenke is… NOT JUST A “CAMP BODY.” I dislike hearing that, almost as much as I dislike hearing a doctor say, “That’s hereditary.” It’s just a blanket statement some writers use to say the unexplained. Well, explaining is what we do hear.

The Experience Rule

So, what I would like to explain before we get further into Schwenke’s specs is… what a player has done… before training camp, in years past, on other teams while playing for a coach… does make a difference. The most obvious case of this is with starters. They don’t have to sacrifice life and limb just to make the team. They already have a job.

A player like Kyle Love, who has some years of substantial experience, will certainly be considered more of a favorite to make the roster… than say… a guy like Kona Schwenke.

Kona Schwenke and Jermelle Cudjo were signed the same day last spring, on May 20th. To do so, they cut Cory Grissom and Ridge Wilson. Both Schwenke and Cudjo can be considered upgrades over the players they replaced on the roster. The point is, that John Dorsey is doing whatever it takes to bring the best players to the table. That creates better competition and better competition makes the team better. Early in camp, and at the time of my visits on August 1st and 2nd, Cudjo looked like he was going to send Love packin’. Although Cudjo has been around for 4 years like Love, his 45 tackles coming from action in 38 games isn’t quite as impressive as Love’s tail of the tape.

Schwenke appears to have some unrealized potential. At Notre Dame he filled in nicely for Louis Nix when he was injured. Schwenke also had 27 reps at his pro day along with 29” in the vertical jump but perhaps most impressively ran a 4.94 40 yard dash. However, Schwenke will be sitting this Sunday evening for preseason game two because of a shoulder sprain so his path to the big time appears to be circuitous from here on out. I can see either Schwenke and Cudjo landing on the Chiefs practice squad. And I can also see both of them getting snatched from the same.

Jairus Campbell is a 6’5” 310 pound UDFA DL out of Bowling Green. He hasn’t done much in camp to distinguish himself and appears destined for the waiver wire.

Defensive Linemen in Bubble Trouble: Kona Schwenke, Jermelle Cudjo, and Jarius Campbell.

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Inside Linebackers in question: Josh Mauga, Nico Johnson and Devan Walker.

Nico Johnson was the Chiefs 4th round selection in last years draft, the 99th overall pick. I’ve made no secret from the time Nico Johnson was drafted that I think his upside and ability to play the ILB is limited. Well, his time with the Kansas City Chiefs may be coming to an end and if that happens, I don’t believe the Chiefs will be giving him an opportunity to continue to develop by going to the practice squad. Literally every time head coach Andy Reid has been questioned this summer about NJ’s performance he says Nico is, “making great progress.” The interpretation for this phrase for those who are non-pro-football-language speaking humans is… “I want you, and Nico, to believe in him soooo much that maybe just maybe by wishing and hoping and dreaming, that the special magic… which you feel after riding a ride at Disneyland at mid-night while watching the fireworks… will pervade Nico’s being and transform him into an effective ILB.” IOW… “I know Nico doesn’t have a chance of ever catching on to this pro football thingy.

All kidding aside, I’ve heard that Nico has made “some” progress in his coverage skills but he still appears limited to function as a run-only linebacker who will get torched every time he’s on the field and opposing QB’s who realize he’s in there will take advantage. The best Nico can be described as is a “thumper” but he has his limitations and that’s the reason why, while he was at Alabama, underclassman C.J. Mosely started many more games and played on most all passing downs.

I’d be interested to see what Nico Johnson could become on a team running a 4/3 and he serves as a middle linebacker in a scheme designed to play north/south only and be that guy who stops the run. He may end up on a team running such a scheme and be successful.

ILB Josh Mauga follows the “experience rule” and when it comes to the internal conversations the coaches will have before selecting depth at ILB, Mauga’s name will come up at someone who played for Bob Sutton from 2009 to 2012, However, Mauga’s career with the Jets was riddled with injury and if Mauga is to make the roster he’ll have to get healthy, stay healthy and show coaches that his health is not going to be an issue. He was out for the whole 2013 season with a back injury. Mauga may be listed ahead of Nico Johnson at ILB on the current depth chart but, the reality is that Mauga played in 29 games from 2010 to 2012 and only started one game himself. Maybe some players are destined to be backup players but the Chiefs can’t afford to have a player on the roster who can’t stay healthy. That is, unless, there are no other full-service options.

That appears to be the Chiefs ILB choices at this time: 1) one player who can cover and is a full-service ILB but can’t stay healthy or 2) an ILB who can only serve as a run thumper who will get burnt the moment he steps on the field and the opposing QB recognizes he’s there.

Josh Mauga has a groin strain and won’t be playing in preseason game #2. “Surprise!”

Nico Johnson and Josh Mauga both have excellent special teams value so that shouldn’t be the determining factor.

The Chiefs waived Dezman Moses to sign Devan Walker (6’3” and 240) just a week ago. Walker doesn’t appear to have enough time in the system to have any hopes of sticking on the main roster but could land on the practice squad with a good showing the next ten days. He had 15 sacks while at Southeastern Louisiana and sacks from the ILB position is always going to get Bob Sutton’s attention. Walker originally signed with San Diego as an UDFA in 2013 but was waived because of an injured knee last August. Bringing Devan Walker in and cutting Moses is a public testament to the idea that the Chiefs are doing everything possible to improve their pass rush from every position on the defense.

When all is said and done, I’ll take Josh Mauga because I know the Chiefs also have James-Michael Johnson who can play the Mike and the Will and he has excellent coverage abilities. In fact, JMJ has looked so good this summer, I can see that he may end up being Derrick Johnson’s replacement after DJ calls it quits… preferably at some distant future date.

Inside Linebackers in Bubble Trouble: Nico Johnson and Devan Walker.

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Outside Linebackers in question: Frank Zombo, Josh Martin and Alonzo Highsmith.

First of all, I’m not listing James-Michael Johnson here because he’s a lock.

Frank Zombo has been with the Chiefs since April of 2013 and followed GM John Dorsey here from Green Bay. When Justin Houston went down last year Zombo filled in but not admirably. Josh Martin is having such a good camp that Zombo could be headed for the door. Martin is one of those players that it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs allowing to walk without some kind of future involvement… like placing him on their practice squad. Tamba Hali has recently touted good things about Martin and the aspect of Zombo’s game that was a pure disappointment a year ago was the lack of pass rushing abilities… which Josh Martin appears to have.

As mentioned before, the Chiefs theme this off season is to improve their pass rush from every defensive position so Martin may end up on the roster and Zombo could be history… unless the Chiefs decide they need experience at that position. Alonzo Highsmith doesn’t look like he had a great camp and will likely be moving on in ten days.

Outside Linebackers in Bubble Trouble: Frank Zombo and Alonzo Highsmith.

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Cornerbacks in question: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Kevin Rutland, Justin Rodgers, Damond Smith, Vernon Kearney.

With the Chiefs thin at cornerback they’ll be keeping Marcus Cooper, Ron Parker, Sean Smith, Chris Owens, and Phillip Gaines for sure. I don’t see anyone else who can crack the top five so the bubble conversation here will be short.

Conversation over, right? Well, I wouldn’t doubt the possibility that the Chiefs make a trade for CB help and it seems like a great possibility that GM John Dorsey will be a pickin’ and a grinnin’ when it comes to the waiver wire two weeks from Monday.

Cornerbacks in Bubble Trouble: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Kevin Rutland, Justin Rodgers, Damond Smith, Vernon Kearney.

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Safeties in question: Jerron McMillan, Daniel Sorenson, Malcolm Bronson, and Jonathon Amaya.

When Sanders Commings went down, the Chiefs Safety situation became unsafe. Daniel Sorenson has had a very good camp but is currently listed below Jerron McMillan on the depth chart. McMillan was a 4th round choice out of Maine in 2012 by the Green Bay Packers meaning he was chosen by John Dorsey. He was signed in January of this year just a month after the Packers released him. Because of the lack of Safety depth McMillan should have no problem making the Chiefs big boy’s roster but Malcolm Bronson and Daniel Sorenson will likely be duking it out for the last spot. A position, while worthy of celebrating, one which may be in question if Dorsey and company find other Safeties on the waiver wire that they value more.

I like Daniel Sorenson a lot but Malcolm Bronson has been around longer with the team and he’s played equally well as, if not better than, Mr. Sorenson. The next two preseason games will determine their future with the club… though it may be short lived. I’m going with Bronson.

Since 2010, Jonathon Amaya has spent time with the Dolphins, the Saints, the Dolphins again, the Cardinals and now the Chiefs. Although he hasn’t had a memorable camp he’s good enough to continue to get interest from several teams. I don’t know enough about Amaya to know if he’d be good to place on the practice squad but since that’s usually filled with players with less experience than he has, my guess is he’ll be released outright.

Safeties in Bubble Trouble: Daniel Sorenson and Jonathon Amaya.

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I know that the field goal kickers position is not considered “defense” but I promised I’d take a look there today. So here you have it.

Kickers in question: Ryan Succop and Cairo Santos

When I read the tea leaves… and often times that’s nothing more than listening to what Andy Reid really is saying… I read that Cairo Santos is about to be named the Chiefs next kicker. When’s the last time you have heard Reid say so emphatically and consistently that the kicking competition is “Tied?” In this case… if the competition wasn’t close, Reid would be saying, “It’s very close” or “We’ve enjoyed having another kicker here to improve the competition” or “We’re glad to have Cairo here to and his presence makes Ryan a better kicker.” Reid is not saying those things. What he does consistently say is… “It’s tied.” Translation: Cairo Santos is about to become the Chiefs next kicker. If that wasn’t the case, Reid would be saying things to calm Succop’s fears. What I’m observing with regards to Santos is… he has a strong, accurate and consistent leg. All the ingredients to become a standout kicker in the NFL, and to make other teams stand up and notice that the Chiefs finally have a superior field goal kicker once again. My take on Succop is… he has a sloppy kicking motion and he’s always been a middle of the road kicker with a very average leg.

Kicker in Bubble Trouble: Ryan Succop.

There you have it Addict fans. Who do you think is in bubble trouble on the defense? I’m glad to have you tell me I’m wrong.

Go Chiefs!!!!

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