Chiefs’ defensive weakness remains in the middle

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Dec 7, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Josh Mauga (90) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chiefs 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On film, Mauga displays only average instincts versus the run, often waiting rather than attacking the line of scrimmage.  Slow in recognizing the play, Mauga bites on fakes or over-pursues the runner, leaving wide cutback lanes. That can be overcome, but the primary issue is that he doesn’t possess the strength to take on blockers. He can be neutralized without blocking him as much as shading his angle of pursuit. Mauga will have gain significant strength and develop aggression prior to training camp or he’ll continue to struggle stopping the run.

Mauga shines dropping into zones and defending the pass. In the same Oakland game, he made several impressive plays on passing downs and nearly had a pick-six in the third quarter.  The bottom line is that Mauga is best suited as a situational third-down linebacker.

May 27, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Ramik Wilson (53) performs drills during organized team activities at the University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The team was able to use the draft to bolster the depth of their linebackers, but were not able to find a clear starter.  Unfortunately, Dorsey drafted two inside linebackers cut from the same cloth as Mauga.  Both Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander are very fast and athletic linebackers who struggle when attacking line of scrimmage and taking on blocks.  Wilson appears to be the strongest of the bunch and could push for the starting role, but training camp will show whether his strength is functional enough to step into the spot next to Johnson on first and second down.

So where does that leave the team and Dorsey? Head coach Gary Kubiak is in Denver and will be planning to run. The Denver Broncos will have three backs over 215 pounds they can rotate against the Chiefs.  The San Diego Chargers spent the offseason preparing to run the ball as well.  They rebuilt their offensive line and drafted Melvin Gordon, a back reminiscent of Jamaal Charles.  Dorsey has to build a roster that can defend the run in order to contend for the AFC West title.

While I expect the inside linebacker competition to be lengthy, I don’t know that there will be a true “winner.” As the roster stands now, the starter will be the best of an average group of run-stoppers.  I fully expect Sutton and Dorsey to find that they need more options for first and second down.

Is Brandon Spikes an option after being charged on four counts by the Massachusetts State Police?  No, not from where I sit.  While he certainly fits the bill as a run defender, his new found baggage makes it hard to bring him onto this Chiefs roster.

One of the linebackers on this roster could emerge as a possibility, but that scenario is a long shot and will need to play out over camp. In the end, cut-down day and the waiver wire are likely to be what determines who lines up next to Johnson and how well this defense can defend the run.  There will be a veteran inside linebackers cut from multiple teams during training camp.  The Chiefs and Dorsey will need one to strengthen the run defense.