A scribe suggested that at 301 pounds, Jaye Howard might be one of the biggest secrets — literally — of the NFL preseason. To this, Mike Devito grinned. The way a shark grins when it’s got a seal dead to rights.
“Jaye has been incredible,” the Kansas City Chiefs defensive end said of his linemate. “I mean, from Day 1, it’s been fun watching him at practice. It’s been fun watching him in the games. I mean — the guy’s the complete package. He’s explosive. He’s big. He’s agile. It’s like watching (number) 92 out there, you know what I mean?”
We kid, we kid.
All-world run-stuffer Dontari Poe — No. 92 on your jersey, No. 1 in your heart — had surgery in mid-July to repair a herniated disk in his back, a procedure that was expected to knock the nose tackle out of action until at least late September. Chiefs coach Andy Reid painted a rosier picture earlier this week, though, hinting that the Memphis native might be cleared to play in Week 2’s primetime home opener against the Denver Broncos. If not sooner.
All of which is sunshine, rainbows and puppy dogs, if you’re on the Chiefs side of the equation. And speaking of dogs, whoda thunk Poe’s understudy — the aforementioned Howard, primarily a defensive end by trade — would be showing this much teeth? Or, for that matter, the defensive line as a whole?
“The transition is tough,” DeVito explained. “Jaye played a ‘3’ technique last year, and to go down there and play nose … it’s funny. It’s just a couple of feet over, but it’s a totally different world.”
You wouldn’t know it from the game tape: ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) graded Howard with a +0.8 overall mark for his work last Friday against Seattle, with a +1.2 on run defense, including three “stops” — solo tackles which the site decrees to be an “offensive failure.” Through two preseason tilts, PFF grades the former Florida Gators standout as the club’s fourth-best run defender behind Derrick Johnson (+3.3 cumulative), Allen Bailey (+3.0) and Justin Houston (+2.7).
Now picture a seasoned No. 96 helping to spell a healthy Poe. Or, even better, helping to cog lanes next to the big lug. If Bailey was the hidden gem of last fall, could Howard, now 26 and hitting his prime, be the diamond that emerges from 2015’s rough?
“My goodness,” DeVito said, grinning again. “You get a guy like 92 back — he’s as good as it gets. You’ve got Jaye. You’ve got (end) Mikey (Catapano) back. You’re right. And when you have depth like that, you can keep guys fresh, you can roll guys, you can have guys for different situations. I mean, it just helps everybody.”
And everybody’s pitching in. Through two preseason contests, the Chiefs rank second in the AFC to Pittsburgh and fifth among NFL clubs in exhibition rush defense (76.5 yards allowed per game). The Andy Gang gave up 127.2 yards on the ground during all 2014 preseason tests.
“I think Jaye has really stepped up, done a really good job of anchoring the middle of the defense, and I think we’re really happy with the way that’s gone,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton told reporters this week. “We look forward to when we get Dontari back whenever he comes back. But right now we think the guys that have gone in there have really taken the challenge on, and I think demonstrated they can play really stout in their particular play against the run.”
According to PFF, Howard’s rocked a +2.6 rush defense grade on 22 snaps this month. By comparison, Poe checked in with a -1.5 grade in 75 snaps last summer and a +1.9 over 78 snaps in ’13. To put it another way: My goodness.
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