Simien Returns and Sees Something Special

Ten years before Chiefs guard Brian Waters was laying pancake blocks on the leagues best linebackers, there was another house hold favorite wearing number 54 for the Kansas City Chiefs. These were the 1990's, the days of defense, and if Chiefs fans could count on one thing outside of a Derrick Thomas pass rush it would be that linebacker Tracy Simien would protect the middle of the Kansas City defense against the run.

At that time Simien met the league standard at middle linebacker, a big strong player that excelled in stuffing the running lanes. Pepper Johnson, Gary Plummer, and Karl Mecklenburg were just a few of Simien's contemporaries that exemplified the type of middle linebacker teams were looking for in the eighties and early nineties.

When the game started to change in the mid to late nineties Tracy found himself in the tail end of an era. Football had evolved to where the big bruising type of middle linebackers were giving way to the smaller more athletic players that could not only play from "B gap" to "B gap" but could also drop in to coverage and run with tight ends.

Simien finally retired from football after the 1999 season but he has never been able to shake his passion for the game. Fortunately for Simien he was recently given the opportunity to return to the NFL as a coach and over the past couple of years he has worked with both the Cologne Centurions and the New York Jets. This season however is a little different because he has now had the opportunity to return to Arrowhead stadium and reunite with the Chiefs. For Simien this far more meaningful than a job, for him it is a homecoming and a reunion with his mentor. "I know my buddy Derrick Thomas is up in the sky looking down and smiling on us right now. If he were here I know it would bring a smile to his face to see Gun and I back together again. Things are just like old hat, Gun hasn't changed and I haven't either. Gun and I think a lot alike so this is a lot of fun and I am glad to be here to help these guys get this defense back where it needs to be."

Throughout the off-season and in to training camp Simien has been assisting linebackers coach Fred Pagac with the influx of new linebackers to the scheme. Simien says he is just "coaching them up a little bit," but with so many new or young linebackers on the roster he has likely been more of a help than he realizes. Players have an added respect for a coach who has played at the same level of competition, in the very same defense, under the same fiery coordinator. In fact, helping his players to understand that fiery coordinator might be Simien's greatest contribution to this team. "A lot of players don't understand him and the one thing about gun is there is nothing phony about him," says Simien. "He sincerely means it when he says he wants to have his team go out and destroy some people on defense. When you are in his position you have to set the tempo for the entire unit. You can't have a better guy to stand in front of a group of players and bring the best out of them than Gunther Cunningham."

A second year under Cunningham should also prove beneficial for the defense according to Simien. "The difference between this year and last year is that guys were getting to know him and I don't know if they quite had a clear understanding of what he wanted. I think he has really made it a point to let them know exactly how he wants his guys to play and what he wants his defense to do. I think he is making it crystal clear this year".

Simien will also be the first to assure you that Gunther Cunningham has not gone soft or mellowed out since his reign in the nineties. "Gun hasn't mellowed out at all and in fact this might the hardest I have ever seen him coach. He is reminding a lot me of the way he was in 1995 when he first got here and how hard he coached. I think he may have even kicked it up another notch," said Simien.

Speaking of 1995, if there were anyone other than Cunningham who could reference the 1995 or 1997 defenses and compare them to this one it would have to be Simien. Simien doesn't shy away from the comparisons either, especially when referencing his linebackers "I would say from an athletic standpoint they come pretty close to matching what we had in 97. They can all run and they are all explosive players so they will have an opportunity to be pretty special".

Simien will however stop just short of anointing this 2005 defense with greatness as he is quick to separate potential from the finished product. "I think this defense has the potential to be really good but I played with a lot of great players as well. These guys have the potential to be great players but potential means one thing, you have the talent but you haven't done much with it yet. In order to reach greatness they have to have it set in their minds that they are not just any other group; they need to decide that they are going to do something to make themselves special."

Quick Hitters From Simien:

Derrick Johnson: "Derrick Johnson from an athletic standpoint has a lot of the athletic tools that a good friend of mine Derrick Thomas had," said Simien. "Johnson can really run and he is really explosive, and even though he still has to learn the pro-game he has a ton of upside. A lot of the time when Johnson cuts loose it looks like he is moving a step faster then everybody else."

Keyaron Fox: "Keyaron Fox puts me in the mind of Anthony Davis," said Simien. "Not only is he a really good athlete that can run but he is also a smart football player. He understands things well and can be a major contributor to what we are trying to get done this year."

Kendrell Bell: "Kendrell Bell can be a physical guy like Wayne Simmons was but also has great speed so he is a much better runner," replied Simien. "He will definitely be a major contributor because when he comes, he brings a thump."

Lional Dalton and Ryan Sims:"They are really making strides, we know that they have all of the ability in the world to get done what we need to get done. Those two guys are the heart of the defense and everything starts with those two tackles inside. They have to be mean nasty ass guys and they are starting to understand that," said Simien.

New York Jets: "It is interesting to look at the two contrasting defensive styles between us and New York," said Simien. "We ask our linebackers to have a more physical nature than they do with the Jets. The Jets backers are smart and can run really fast but we ask our guys to play a more downhill physical game than they do."

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