Season Preview – Part 2: Defense

Under the direction of new head coach Herm Edwards, the Chiefs achieved their highest defensive ranking since the late 90's last season. It's progress from the woeful defenses that Kansas City annually fielded to begin the new millennium, but there's still work to be done.

The Chiefs have the potential to vault into the top 10 on defense in 2007. They've upgraded key areas of their defense in order to have a shot at doing so. Let's look at the changes Edwards has made in year two of the defensive revolution.

Defensive End

Tamba Hali and Jared Allen are set as the starters once more, but after those two players there's not much talent to work with. Jimmy Wilkerson and rookie Tank McBride are the backups for now, but neither are particularly quick around the corner and don't really fit the mold of Cover 2 defensive ends. This is a concern when you consider Allen's four-game suspension.

Unless McBride surprises quite a few people filling in for Allen, the Chiefs may be forced to start the year without much of a pass rush. Expect Hali to see quite a few double teams over the season's first month. This might force defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to blitz more than usual in order to get pressure, unless Kansas City can bring the heat from another source. That leads us to our next topic.

Defensive Tackles

There was no weaker position group on KC's defense a year ago. The Chiefs lacked an interior pass rush and it killed them at times (see the game in Cleveland for an example). What did they do to address the problem?

Edwards attacked it head on, bringing in free agent tackle Alphonso Boone and drafting NC State's Tank Tyler plus McBride. The starters from a year ago – James Reed and Ron Edwards – will benefit immensely from the influx of talent. A year ago they were forced to play more snaps than is ideal. With a talented rotation, the Chiefs will be able to keep their tackles fresh.

The only issue now is finding the three-technique defensive tackle the Cover 2 scheme so desperately needs. McBride could possibly fill that role after Allen returns from his suspension. Either way, look for Kansas City's defensive tackles to play much better football in 2007. Simply replacing Ryan Sims on the depth chart will assure that.

Linebacker

Talk about an upgrade. A year ago the Chiefs were forced to play Kendrell Bell and Kawika Mitchell at two of the three starting linebacker positions. Neither has the traits one looks for in an ideal Cover 2 ‘backer – simply put, they couldn't cover all that well. Their replacements, on the other hand, are ideally suited for the job.

Donnie Edwards' return to Kansas City might be KC's biggest offseason upgrade. He'll bring experience and playmaking ability to the weakside linebacker position, something the Chiefs have lacked for years. Napoleon Harris might not be a Pro-Bowler, but his talents fit the scheme.

When you combine these two with rising star Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs may have one of the best sets of linebackers in the entire league. If this group can avoid injury, look for the scheme to run much more smoothly than it did a year ago – fewer missed tackles, better coverage and more big plays. All you have to do is listen to safety Bernard Pollard rave about the linebackers in this issue of Warpaint Illustrated. And speaking of safeties…

Safety

Out with the old, in with the new. The Chiefs weren't horrible at safety a year ago, but they already had a plan to replace Greg Wesley and Sammy Knight. The drafting of Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard was an obvious move for the future. What can Chiefs fans expect from this pair of young safeties?

Athleticism, mostly. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. Page will have to prove his spectacular spot-duty play in 2006 wasn't a fluke. Pollard will have to prove he can handle the role of a starter. Considering Herm Edwards' history with young defensive backs, I think we can expect good things, but these are young players. We'll see some big-time highlight reel plays, but we'll also see some huge mistakes from time to time. Expect some growing pains.

Cornerback

To what extent are KC's veteran corners living off their reputation? Five years ago, Patrick Surtain and Ty Law might've formed the best cornerback tandem in the NFL, but that's not so in the present. Neither performed up to the level of their contract in 2006. A year later, just how much gas do they have left in the tank?

It's difficult to say, but if the Chiefs' pass rush disappears early, Surtain and Law might struggle. If Tank Tyler and Turk McBride upgrade the defensive line as planned, we might see the old Surtain and Law. The real concern is a lack of depth at cornerback.

Kansas City's only experienced corner behind the veterans is Benny Sapp. Behind him there's a slew of talented but vastly inexperienced young players. In today's NFL, you need four solid cornerbacks to defend teams like the Indianapolis Colts. Who will emerge? The Chiefs better hope someone does.

Projected season stats: 300 yards and 17 points allowed per game.

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