Tyson Jackson and his former LSU roommate Glenn Dorsey were already flashing the "LSU bust" label. Jarrad Page was becoming an increasingly concerning story as his holdout had begun to unravel by the day. And the Chiefs linebackers of ‘09 were headlined by the lack of play by Derrick Johnson.
Fast-forward two months and the unit is sending a message that is echoing throughout Chiefs nation: this defense is back!
Much of the credit goes to new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, but credit might not be enough. This man deserves coach of the year honors for turning around a defense from one of the worst in the league to one that the Chiefs have leaned on in back-to-back victories. And to boot, he did it with the same set of players.
Well, not quite.
Though I agree that Crennel deserves most if not all the credit for turning around this defensive squad, his touch has manifested itself in how he has utilized the players he was given. The Chiefs' biggest free agent acquisition this past offseason was journeyman NT/DE Shaun Smith, who hardly broke the bank. Other than the addition of rookie safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis, Crennel was able to create an entirely new defense out of, for the most part, the same group of players from ‘09.
After two games last year, the Chiefs top five tacklers were, in order, Mike Brown (11), Tank Tyler (11), Mike Vrabel (10), Maurice Leggett (8), and Demorrio Williams (8). Of those five, only Vrabel and Williams have registered tackles in 2010, with both combining for only seven. The Chiefs cut ties with Brown, traded Tyler, and placed Leggett on IR.
The top five in 2010 looks a whole lot different with the resurgent Derrick Johnson leading the team with 19 tackles. That's right, 19 from the same Johnson that road the pine for the majority of ‘09 and only registered 10 tackles in the entire first half of the season. If DJ continues at this rate, he will be on pace to tie last season's NFL tackle leader Patrick Willis (SF) with 152 tackles. That kind of turnaround could be good for the comeback player of the year award, which should be labeled with an asterisk crediting Crennel.
But Johnson isn't the only player that Crennel should be credited for turning around. The biggest difference from ‘09 to ‘10 is the play upfront from the big men. Ron Edwards, Shaun Smith, and Glenn Dorsey are all tied for fourth on the Chiefs' tackles list with eight a piece.
Even though he sat on the bench last Sunday, Tyson Jackson has also improved his tackle totals with six on Monday night before suffering a knee injury. Considering Jackson only averaged 1.6 tackles per game in 2010, this is one hell of an improvement.
The addition of Eric Berry and his 13 tackles, good for second on the team, has also been a big reason for the drastic about-face. The young safety is already becoming a terror against the run and it is only a matter of time before he catches up to the speed of the NFL receivers in pass coverage. Once he does, Berry could very quickly become one of the best safeties in the league.
Jovan Belcher is another young player with tremendous upside that Crennel seems to be harnessing. Belcher's 11 tackles are good for third on the team. Considering the second-year undrafted linebacker has only started three games in his career, I'd say Crennel deserves a significant portion of the praise on this one as well.
Regardless of who is to credit for this drastic turnaround, this defense has shown up in 2010 with a new face and a new attitude. And as the Chiefs host the fiery Mike Singletary-led 49ers at Arrowhead on Sunday, the NFL should be poised to take notice.
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