Heart and Soul

The 2004 Kansas City Chiefs defense was bad. Very, very bad. They ranked 31st in rushing yards per carry, yielding 4.6 yards per carry. A major factor in that production, or lack thereof, was the poor play of the linebacker corps.

They were easily faked out, slow to the ball, and poor tacklers once they got to the ball. The main players of that group was Kawika Mitchell, Scott Fujita, Monty Beisel, Fred Jones, and Quinton Caver.

Turn the calendar ahead to September 11th, 2005. The players of the 2005 version of the Kansas City Chiefs defense look very different. Fred Jones was not offered a contract for 2005. Monty Beisel signed a free agent contract with the New England Patriots. Quinton Caver was cut during the first 2005 official cut. Scott Fujita was traded to the Dallas Cowboys as the Chiefs trimmed the 2005 roster to 53 players.

Enter the new breed of linebackers for the 2005 version of the Chiefs defense. Kendrell Bell, former defensive rookie of the year and probowler, was signed as an undrafted free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers early in free agency. Derrick Johnson, former Butkus Award as top collegiate linebacker and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the top collegiate defensive player, was the Chiefs first round draft pick out of the University of Texas this year. Keyaron Fox was buried on the Chiefs roster last year after being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft out of Georgia Tech University. He hardly looks the same as the 2004 rookie version of himself. He's much more confident, much more physical, and much more disruptive.

Kawika Mitchell looks nothing like he did last year, either. Mitchell was the offseason pet project of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. Cunningham attempted to transform Mitchell from a passive, sometimes clueless, and often out of position guy on the field to a smart, tenacious, aggressive, ball seeking middle linebacker. The change has been apparent during the offseason.

However, it's one thing to sign free agents, draft collegiate superstars and improve talent already on the roster through coaching. It's a totally different thing to see those actions deliver results on the field. The Chiefs got their first chance to see those results on Sunday against the New York Jets. The results were good. Very, very good. The linebackers were the heart and soul of a much improved defense. They were fast, physical, aggressive, disruptive and sure tacklers.

The stats illustrate that production. Fox had 1 defensive tackle and 2 special teams tackles. Bell had 3 tackles. Mitchell had 5 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 1 defensed pass and 2 fumbles recoveries. Johnson had 8 solo tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble. That is production the Chiefs haven't seen for several years from their linebackers. That is production that has the nation commenting on Chiefs defense, and has Chiefs fans excited again.

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