If the Model Works, Work the Model

Reconstruction!!!! Is there any better word to describe what needed to happen to the Kansas City Chiefs defense this off-season? It never seemed that Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham was ever satisfied with the notion of trying to improve to be a middle of the road defense. Gunther is a builder and the best person to bring this defense to new heights.

It would appear that the Chiefs utilized the same reconstruction model that turned a poor offense into one of the NFL's best. It was a two year project, but we are still seeing the rewards today. One of the key's to success is to find a model that works and repeat it over and over again. Dell, Inc. for example has used it's direct model to become an industry leader in desktop computers, laptop/portable computers, workstations and many other products.

"The organization had a goal to reshape our defensive personnel so we could put a product on the field that was better than last year. We've got the players, now what we have to do is turn the calendar back. I know what I like on defense.", Cunnigham said.

"What we'd like to do is play like we used to around here. That's the goal I see at the end of my dream to the bring back the explosion and speed, taking the ball away and putting it in ‘Amen Corner,' we'd like to be able to score on defense."

Let's take a look at the model the Chiefs have employed to reconstruct. We'll look at the offensive execution and the defensive parallel.

The reconstruction model begins with finding an architect that has been a leader in a successful program, has head coaching experience, and has experience and passion with Kansas City and the Chiefs. The offensive execution was hiring Al Saunders to be the Offensive Coordinator. Saunders was the WR coach for the vaunted "best show on turf" unit of the St. Louis Rams. Saunders helped develop that offensive strategy with offensive coordinator and then head coach Mike Martz.

Saunders previously spent time as a WRs coach in Kansas City, as well as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. The defensive parallel is Gunther Cunningham. Gunther is known around the league NFL as one the league's best defensive coordinator. Cunningham was the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs during their days as one of the league's best defenses and later was the head coach of the Chiefs for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

The next phase of the model is to build a solid foundation. The offensive execution was the building the best offensive line in the game. Saunders' approach calls for not only a solid foundation, but a mobile one as well. Players need to be able to get out on the edge and pave the way for the running attack. In executing this model, you can't be afraid of taking risks on players that may be coming off injury or may be viewed as having other deficiencies. If they fit the scheme, you get them.

The Chiefs acquired Willie Roaf in a trade with the New Orleans Saints even though he was coming off an injury. They also signed Casey Wiegman even though he was said to be undersized as a center. They found a diamond in the rough in Brian Waters, who is now a pro bowl offensive guard. These three acquisitions combined with perennial probowler Will Shields and former 1st round draft pick John Tait (who is no longer with the team) to form the best offensive line in the league. However, the foundation didn't stop there. Tight end Jason Dunn and fullback Tony Richardson are vital cogs to that strong, sturdy yet mobile foundation. The defensive parallel is the transformation of the front seven on the Chiefs defense. Last year the Chiefs acquired Lional Dalton who became a disruptive force on the defensive line. They drafted Jared Allen in the 5th round of the 2004 NFL draft and he delivered 9 sacks in his rookie campaign. They drafted Junior Siavii in the 2nd round of the same draft and he has shown flashes of being a disruptive force as well. In the 3rd round of the 2004 draft the Chiefs added Keyaron Fox at outside LB who by all accounts is having a monster off-season.

This off-season the Chiefs acquired Carlos Hall, who also delivered 9 sacks in his rookie season, via a trade with the Tennessee Titans for a 5th round pick in the 2005 draft. He provides an outside pass rush threat the Chiefs had been lacking. They also acquired LB free agent Kendrell Bell formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is an explosive playmaker that attacks the line of scrimmage extremely well. Bell is coming off an injury, but the Chiefs believe that is a risk worth taking for his upside. Finally, the Chiefs drafted outside LB Derrick Johnson, arguably the best defensive player in the 2005 rookie class. Bell, Hall, Fox and Johnson all greatly improve the speed of the overall defense.

The next phase of the model is to overhaul the talent of the weakest area. The offensive execution was to improve the receiving corp. The unit already had the best receiving tight end in the league, Tony Gonzalez. However, there wasn't anything else there after him. The Chiefs acquired Eddie Kennison, Johnnie Morton and Marc Boerigter. Since Vermeil and Saunders have taken over, the entire WR corp has been replaced. While this unit has not a probowl calibre unit they have made some catches downfield and are among league leaders in yards per catch. Kennison had a breakout year in 2004 with 62 catches, 1086 yards and eight TD's in only 14 games. Morton was on track for a 1000 yards season as well but missed three games due to injury.

The defensive parallel is the secondary. The Chiefs defensive backs have been abused the past 3 years. This offseason, the Chiefs acquired probowl CB Patrick Surtain via trade with the Miami Dolphins. They signed free agent strong safety Sammy Knight, formerly of the Dolphins. They drafted CB Alphonso Hodge from the University of Miami, Ohio in the 5th round of the 2005 draft. Last year they added blitz specialist Benny Sapp as an undrafted rookie free agent from the University of Northern Iowa.

They have also switched William Bartee from CB to free safety. Early reports are that it will be a successful transition.

The next piece of the reconstruction plan is to add a point man of the unit. The offensive execution was Trent Green. Green was the QB in St. Louis for Vermeil and Saunders before losing his starting role to Kurt Warner due to injury. Green was acquired via trade with the Rams on the eve of the 2001 draft. The defensive parallel is Surtain. Cunningham's defensive strategy relies on a cornerbacks that excel in man to man coverage. That allows Cunningham to attack the offensive backfield with his front seven. Surtain fills that role.

The reconstruction plan also needs a foreman, or a leader. Green's familiarity with the offensive scheme and his leadership qualities were the main reasons he was acquired and made him the unquestioned leader of the offense. The defensive parallel is Knight. The Chiefs coaching staff are extremely high on his leadership skills. Speaking about Knight, Cunningham said, "Sammy Knight is another solid addition to our defensive unit. He's an instinctive and intelligent football player. He brings an attitude of toughness and tenacity that we wanted to add to our secondary. He's a physical performer who isn't afraid to step up and hit somebody. Sammy also possesses tremendous leadership skills. He's a guy who we expect to be an extension of the coaching staff both on and off the field and an individual who should raise the level of play for our entire defense."

In order to execute the plan, there must be a work horse to build the unit around. The offensive execution was Priest Holmes. Holmes had proven to be an effective rusher, but didn't fit the scheme with his former team, the Baltimore Ravens. He was a perfect fit for Saunders' offensive scheme. The defensive parallel is Bell. Due to injury and salary cap Bell no longer fit the plans of the Steeleres. He is a perfect fit for the Cunningham's attacking scheme. "When I got enamored with Kendrell Bell when I was in Tennessee and he single-handedly took apart our offense. That's what he is. He's a powerful, explosive blitz guy," Cunningham said.

The final piece of the plan is a set up guy. The offensive execution was to find a kick returner who could be an offensive weapon and provide great field position. Vermeil identified Dante Hall as that player, and Hall has responded by becoming one of the best kick returners in the league and a probowler. The defensive parallel came in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL draft. The Chiefs draft punter Dustin Colquitt from the University of Tennessee. Colquitt was clearly the best punter in the draft and arguably the best since probowler Shane Lechler was drafted in 2000. The Chiefs believe he can be a defensive weapon and provide tremendous field position for the defense.

Colquitt comes from a punting family and is a true tactician of the craft. "The thing my dad has always said is the kicking and punting is a lot like golf. You don't swing any harder, you just change clubs. That is the thing. A lot of people will try when they are pooch punting or kicking when backed up they try to change their leg speed or speed up. It is not that. You have to have the same leg speed every time. If you have that all you do is adjust your drop. If I am kicking out the back of my end zone I am not going to drop the ball as high. I want to get it away from a man and I want to get it out. If you are pooch punting you never want to take anything off, you just want to kick it higher. You put the nose up to have a lot more hang-time," Colquitt said.

The reconstruction model has been repeated and now is the time for Cunningham to put it all together. If he can make it work, like Saunders has made the offense work, the Chiefs will be playing a very meaningful game February 5th, 2006 in Detroit.

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