Erik Hicks (C+) : - When the Chiefs made the decision to re-sign Erik Hicks in the off-season, they had hoped he could be a double-digit sack master. But instead they've only received one sack out of Hicks. That might not have as much to do with his talent as the Chiefs inability early I the season to get a strong push up the middle. Well that's changed in recent weeks. However in obvious passing situations, Hicks has been on the sidelines. He has to start getting more sacks and the Chiefs need to use him more on third down. Hicks represents the only legitimate pass rusher this team has on the roster and a change of thinking could be in order when opponents pass the ball on third down.
Ryan Sims (C-): - When the Chiefs made Sims their top draft pick back in 2001 they hoped by now he'd be a rising star. Well thus far he's been average at best. Sims has shown flashes of being the great player that Kansas City thought they drafted but he's having a hard time getting a strong push up the middle. Sims has all the talent and ability to be a dominant defensive player but Gunther Cunningham has yet to get him to buy into the new system. Sims is now facing reduced playing time with an injured hamstring that might keep him out of action for a game or two.
John Browning (A-): - The biggest change in the defense this season has been the switch of John Browning from the inside tackle to defensive end. Browning has replaced Vonnie Holliday as the starter at end and he's performed at such a high level, you wonder what took so long to make the switch in the first place. Though he only has one sack, he's been outstanding in stopping the run. He along with Lional Dalton is the primary reasons that the Chiefs defense has shown improvement the last two weeks.
Vonnie Holliday (D+): - It took the Chiefs only one game to realize that Vonnie Holliday was not a player the Chiefs could count on for much production in 2004. After the loss in Denver to the Broncos where Holliday continued to bit on the play fakes of Jake Plummer, the Chiefs quickly looked for answers to solve his ineffectiveness. That came in an injury and the play of John Browning. Holliday is now a back-up and rookie Jared Allen when he comes back from his injury should push him even farther down the depth chart. To his credit, he's been a solid locker room guy and if the Chiefs get anything out of him on the field it will be a huge bonus.
Lional Dalton (A+): - Outside of Browning, Lional Dalton has made the biggest difference in the Chiefs resurgence on defense. Dalton has been the space-eating nose tackle that they hoped Sims would become. He's now entrenched himself as the starter. Dalton came to the Chiefs with some baggage but he's obviously left all that behind him. He has blown up running backs in the backfield and has forced opponents to double-team him which allows the Chiefs to bring even more heat at the quarterback. Dalton is the enforcer on defense. His play against the Ravens last Monday make the Chiefs organization look like they knew what they were doing when they signed him as a free agent in the off-season. He's been everything they'd hoped he'd be and more.
Junior Siavii (C+): - When Ryan Sims left the Ravens game last Monday Night with an injury, the Chiefs saw a glimpse of their future. Rookie Junior Siavii when teamed up with Lional Dalton make up the best interior line that Kansas City has put on the field since the mid-90's. Siavii after struggling early in training camp has shown flashes of brilliance and consistency. It's clear he has talent and he has a motor that never stops. He could become a stable force inside and as he gets better the defense will get even better.
Gary Stills (C+): - When the Chiefs traded R-Kal Truluck before the final cuts, they made a decision that Gary Stills could rush the passer as well as Truluck. That's yet to happen this year. Stills has struggled for the most part this season and though he's getting more opportunities since the injury to Vonnie Holliday, he seems to have lost a step or two. But he's a valuable special teams performer and that's his primary job on this team. However Kansas City needs him to increase his sack productivity when he's in the game.
Jared Allen (C-): - One of the biggest surprises in training camp was the play of rookie Jared Allen. One of the reasons they drafted the former Buchanan Award winner was his ability to make plays. The six foot seven inch defensive end has done a good job when he's been healthy. Not only can he put pressure on the quarterback but he's a sure handed tackler.
Jimmy Wilkerson (D+) - After a strong rookie season, Jimmy Wilkerson has yet to make an impact on the defense. But Kansas City needs to get him on the field. Wilkerson can play every defensive line position and he has the ability to rush the passer. As the season progresses, he could be someone the Chiefs can count on.
Scott Fujita (B+): - This was to be the year that Scott Fujita made a huge impact on the Chiefs new defense. He has not disappointed as he's second on the team in tackles with 22. The only thing preventing him from grading out higher is some of the inconsistency he's shown. At times he's over-pursued and not utilized his speed. He could be out for a game or two after injuring his ankle on Monday night. Still he has the most upside of any of the linebackers and when he returns; he could be dominate.
Monty Beisel (A-): - When Mike Maslowski went down for the season and then Kawika Mitchell suffered a ankle injury, the Chiefs were forced to give their starting middle linebacker spot to Monty Beisel. All he's done is at excel at the position and stabilize a linebacking group that was in chaos. Beisel leads the team in tackles with 29 and the sure tackling ability of Beisel that made him a great special teams player has translated into a solid starter. The former Kansas State Wildcat has adjusted to his new role and the increased responsibility by playing great football. Like Fujita he has tremendous speed and he has a knack for getting to the ball carrier and recognizing screen passes. He's been one of the primary reasons the defense has played better in each of the first four games. As each game passed, Beisel has played better and better.
Shawn Barber (B): - After the Chiefs lost to the Houston Texans at home on in Week three, Barber addressed the entire team in the locker room and made it clear that this team was capable of winning 13 straight games. He challenged them and after the Ravens win, the message became clear. The defense was awesome in a hostile environment and Barber is showing the leadership that made the Chiefs invest so much money in him a year ago. Barber who battled injuries in 2003 has played better this season and become more aggressive. That's a good sign for this defense.
Kawika Mitchell (D+): - This should be an incomplete but Mitchell who missed the first two games of the season played very well against the Ravens filling in for Scott Fujita. Mitchell was handed the middle linebacker job but lost it when Beisel stepped up in his absence. Mitchell has a world of talent and if he can play significant minutes as a back-up that will only aid the long term success of the defense.
Fred Jones (C-): - Jones has been limited in his playing time on the field outside of special teams. He has not played much the last two games since the return of Mitchell. He's someone who has some skills and in a pinch can start a game but he's a back-up nothing more.
Quinton Caver (C-): - Another special teams standout. The former Philadelphia Eagle starter has yet to make an impact on defense. He along with Jones can play a position in a pinch but has yet to show he can start for more than a game or two.
Keyaron Fox (INC): - The rookie linebacker has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and he's yet to hit the field. But he was a tackling machine at Georgia Tech and the Chiefs need to get him on the field one way or another. He has the talent to be a starter someday but he needs to get healthy.
Eric Warfield (A): - Gunther Cunningham made it clear that he thought Eric Warfield had the talent to be a shutdown corner. Well he's right. Warfield, despite his off the field issues, has made a huge impact on this defense. He already has three interceptions including one for a touchdown and he's been stellar in supporting the run. Warfield has the talent and skill to achieve whatever he wants on the football field. He's generally shut down the top receiver when he's been allowed to play bump and run. Too many times, because of injuries to the secondary, he's been caught in zone coverage and that's the only time that teams find success against him.
Dexter McCleon (D-): - No one player on defense has been more disappointing on this roster than Dexter McCleon. Its apparent that he can't play a solid corner and his best role might be as a nickel back. McCleon is better suited to play the inside receiver than on the outside when he is on an island. He's been burned on far too many plays and his removing of the helmet incident in the Panthers game showed that his head is not in the game. McCleon was the teams best defensive player the first half of the 2003 season but he's nowhere the same player he was then. If this team is going to become a better defense, then he or someone else has to play better opposite Warfield if that's going to happen.
Julian Battle (C+): - Looking at Battle you'll understand why the Chiefs are high on this second year player. But Battle also has yet to develop or comprehend Gunther Cunningham's new defensive system. But he needs to become a fast learner over the last twelve games this season. This defense is better suited having a cornerback opposite Warfield who can play bump and run. Battle is getting better and played his best game against the Ravens. With the bye week, the Chiefs could move McCleon out of the starting lineup and take their chances with Battle.
Benny Sapp (B-): - If there is one play that signified the ability of Benny Sapp it was his devastating sack late on Monday Night in Baltimore. Sapp came on a corner blitz and nailed Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller and that sealed the Chiefs win. Sapp an unrestricted free agent reminds me of a young and very raw Kevin Ross. He could be someone who the Chiefs can count on as he gets confident in his abilities and understands the complicate defense schemes. Sapp the younger cousin of Warren Sapp has football ability and I expect him to solidify the nickel position on this team.
Jerome Woods (D+): - Outside of the play of Dexter McCleon, Jerome Woods has been down right awful. He appears to be a step behind every play and not at anytime this year have we seen those bone-jarring hits in the secondary that made Woods a defensive warrior. He's not hitting anyone and either he's injured or the veteran safety does not understand the defensive system. He was a strong supporter of the hiring of Cunningham but he's been one of the weakest links on defense. That's not a good sign since the Chiefs signed him to a new contract in the off-season. He must play better of this defense is going to improve down the road.
Greg Wesley (B-): - Another player who has been hampered by injuries has been Wesley. The Chiefs need him to play much better. Like Woods he's not been as physical as he's shown in the past. Wesley has amazing skills, speed and is a fiery competitor. He needs to translate that attitude into better play on the field. Wesley needs to lead the way in the backfield. It's time he take the mantle and run with it.
Shaunard Harts (D): - After a stellar 2003 season where he became a solid back-up, Harts has struggled mightily this season. In fact an undrafted rookie safety has moved ahead of him on the depth chart. Granted he's been injured some but I expected more out of Harts. With Woods struggling, someone else has to step up.
Willie Pile (C-): - For a rookie has played well but he has a long way to go and his age not projected talent has more to do with his play than anything else. I like Pile and he could become a solid back-up and someone who could eventually replace Jerome Woods in a year or two.
On Monday we grade out the Special teams and coaching staff.