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.

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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.

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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?