"If you're going to win a championship you have got to have a great defense," Edwards said that day. "There is no doubt about it. Every team I have been involved with had good defenses."
Yes, it's true that head coaches oversee the entire football team, but no one will soon accuse Herm Edwards of being an offensive genius. The Chiefs have spent six of their nine first-day picks under Edwards on the defensive side of the football. His primary mission as KC's head coach has to been to rebuild a defense that ranked 25th the year before his arrival.
Some might argue Edwards has had enough time now. Jeff Fisher's defense in Tennessee ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed as recently as 2004 and 2005 and dead last in total yardage in 2006. But by reshaping his defensive roster (mostly the back seven) while Titans fans remained patient, Fisher saw his unit bolt to fifth in total defense a year ago, leading his team back to the playoffs despite a below-average offense.
Meanwhile, fans in Kansas City have also remained patient - the Chiefs have drafted 11 defensive players under Edwards' watch and brought in a long list of free agents (Ty Law, Ron Edwards, James Reed, Alfonso Boone, Donnie Edwards, Napoleon Harris, DeMorrio Williams etc). The defensive coaching staff, save coordinator Gunther Cunningham, has been completely turned over from the Vermeil days.
When the Chiefs line up on defense against Tom Brady and Randy Moss this September, 10 of the 11 starters on the field will most likely have arrived in Kansas City under Edwards' watch. Linebacker Derrick Johnson could be the only holdover from the previous regime (cornerback Patrick Surtain is another possibility, but there's a chance he'll be the third corner this year).
In fact, a quick check of KcChiefs.com reveals that Johnson and Surtain will be the only remaining defenders (factoring in the upcoming release/trade of safety Greg Wesley) from the Vermeil era on the entire defensive roster when this season begins.
Here is the point – this is Herm's defense now. The cupboard has been swept clean of the stale fare of years past. There are no more Kendrell Bells or Eric Warfields. No one is waiting for Ryan Sims to turn into something.
Instead, we're waiting for Tank Tyler, Turk McBride and Bernard Pollard to justify their draft position. We're waiting for Herm to make good on the promise he delivered that same day he was hired.
"We are going to play defense because it's important," he said. "I think especially in the National Football League in the months of November and December, especially when you make it in the playoffs, if you look at the teams that won, what did they do? Play defense."
Have the Chiefs been playing defense under Edwards' watch? Well, no one can turn up their nose at KC's defensive rankings the last two seasons – 16th and 13th – but you know that's not what Herm wants. He wants what he saw in Tampa Bay, the kind of defense that suffocates even the elite offenses and can carry a marginal offense deep into the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl.
It's interesting that Edwards has built his current defense in that same Tampa Two mold. He now has his three-technique defensive tackle in Glenn Dorsey. The Chiefs see a little bit of John Lynch in Bernard Pollard. When Edwards drafted cornerback Brandon Flowers this April, he compared the rookie to the Cover Two corners the Buccaneers drafted during his time in Tampa – Ronde Barber and Donnie Abraham.
The Chiefs dealt their dominant outside pass rusher, their version of Simeon Rice (Jared Allen) this offseason, so there is still obviously work to be done. And more than you might think, when you consider those two months Edwards mentioned when he was hired – November and December – haven't exactly been great times for Chiefs defenses the last two seasons.
During those late-season affairs (18 games in all), Edwards' Chiefs defenses have given up 20.5 points per game and 343 yards per game. Respectable defense, perhaps, but you know that's not the goal. The Chiefs want to be dominant. They want to field a championship defense.
Is Herm's defense - full of his players, directed by his coaches, and the one he clearly must take full ownership of now – ready to restore the tradition of great defense in Kansas City? We'll find out in November and December this year.
FRIDAY: Why the Chiefs might struggle to take the next step on defense in 2008.
It's Herm's defense now
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