Immediately visions of a playmaking linebacker crushing the quarterback for a sack off of a blitz, visions of stripping the ball from the quarterback or ball carrier and visions of short or immediate passes being intercepted entered into the minds of fans. Certainly, this is what Carl Peterson, Dick Vermeil and Gunther Cunningham envisioned as well. Certainly, Derrick Johnson envisioned this as well.
The question that must be asked is how soon will the Chiefs, DJ and the Chiefs' fans see those visions become a reality on the field? Could it be opening day against the New York Jets? One man has the answer to that question.
Is it Derrick Johnson's decision? Derrick has to "go to work". He has to study and learn the massive playbook that linebacker coach Fred Pagac handed him shortly after he made his first trip to Arrowhead. Derrick has to fit into the defense and make plays on the field. He has to prove the critics wrong and show that he is a physical player who can take on blocks when necessary and can be a very solid tackler at the point of contact. Derrick has to show the speed and instincts that he showed at the University of Texas for the past 4 years and got his name called in the 1st round of this years NFL draft. Derrick has plenty of work to do before September 11th, but the decision on whether he starts that game is not his.
Could it be Fred Pagac? Coach Pagac has to "go to work". He has to coach DJ into an NFL linebacker. All the tools are there; speed, intelligence, instincts, athleticism, and playmaking ability. Pagac has much to work with. He's got to be patient. Give DJ as much as he can handle, but not more. He's got to ride him and not allow him to rest on his All-American, 1st round draft pick status. He's got to teach him techniques that make good players, great players. He's got to teach him how to use his speed and instincts. But will Pagac ultimately decide if DJ starts. No, he won't be the one.
Perhaps it is Gunther Cunningham. Gun has to "go to work". Gun has to look at DJs numerous tools in light of the talent that has been assembled this off season and from off seasons past and determine what is the best way to use all his weapons. Like Pagac, he too must be patient, but push DJ to be everything he can be. He must teach him the schemes and the reads. He must figure out the best use of his many talents. There's much for Gun to do, but he's not going to determine if DJ starts.
It must be Dick Vermeil. Vermeil has to "go to work". Vermeil has to create an environment where DJ feels a part of the team, a part of the family. He must show confidence in DJ even when he makes boneheaded rookie mistakes. He'll have to show the courage to put DJ in the lineup even with the images of those mistakes in his mind. He'll have to get DJ to believe in himself, in his teammates and in his coaches. But as we stand here today, even Vermeil will not be the one who dictates whether or not DJ starts against the Jets.
So who's left to make that decision. Carl has already "gone to work". He signed Kendrell Bell and Sammy Knight. He traded for Patrick Surtain and Carlos Hall. He resisted the temptation to trade down and instead ignored the naysayers and drafted perhaps the best defensive player in the draft. He has more work to do. He has to look at the available talent (both free agents and those who are or could be on the trading block) to see if he can add another piece to the defense reclamation project. However, at this point, Carl will not be the one who dictates whether or not Derrick Johnson is in the starting lineup on September 11th.
The man who will dictate whether or not DJ starts is not even a member of the Kansas City Chiefs front office or team. The man who will decide that is Vann McElroy, Derrick Johnson's agent. Given the tools that DJ brings to the table, the excitement the Chiefs' staff has over him, the talent around him and the coaching he will receive, the only way Derrick Johnson is not a starter against the Jets is if he holds out and is not in training camp on time. If DJ is there on the first day of camp, he, Pagac, Gun and Vermeil will "go to work" and get him ready.
McElroy needs to "go to work" and get his client into training camp on time. It should be an easy resolution. The NFL has a slotting system that is based on two criteria: Last year's draft pick compensation for the same spot this year's selection was taken (i.e. the 15th pick of the 2004 draft) and the compensation for those drafted around the pick (i.e. the 14th and 16th pick. Now is not the time for McElroy to try to prove that he can beat the system. He needs to go with it. He needs to know that Carl will not go outside of the system.
The 15th pick of the 2004 draft was wide receiver Michael Clayton by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Clayton received a 6 year contract worth $13M. McElroy needs to take the simple approach. He needs to add 3% to 5% to the contract to account for inflation, add some bonus clauses in for various attainments including defensive rookie of the year and probowls and then have his client sign it. It will be a fair contract, but it won't be an out of the market contract. This will not be the "big" contract. That will be the next one after DJ has multiple probowls under his belt. Now is not the time to posture DJ has a top 10 talent needing to receive a top 10 contract. A holdout will cost DJ a year, much like it has cost Ryan Sims.
DJ can start this year and he will….if Vann McElroy "goes to work" and gets his client into camp on time.