Chiefs' defense may need more time

It has been nine years since Arrowhead Stadium roared for a top 10 defense. Chiefs fans are tired of waiting for the return of such an experience after sitting patiently through three head coaches, three defensive coordinators and a myriad of in-the-door with hope, out-the-door with disappointment defenders.

Bad news. Chiefs fans may have to wait a little longer for that top 10 defense if you put any stock into the following observations from May's admittedly cloudy crystal ball.

Since defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham returned to Kansas City, his defense has been inching back toward respectability. He outlined that much earlier this offseason by shedding light on the improving trend of total touchdowns surrendered by his defenses since 2004.

The Chiefs gave up 50 touchdowns in 2004, 36 in 2005, 32 in 2006 and 28 a year ago. That's progress, as mirrored by KC's improvement in total defensive ranking over the same time period – from 31st to 25th to 16th and 13th last season.

Considering the continuity on the coaching staff, many might say the next logical step is for Kansas City's defense to make that quantum leap into the elite, to become one of the ten best defenses in the NFL. Maybe so, but taking into account the developments of the 2008 offseason, a few more baby steps might be required before Gunther's boys can walk or run into Arrowhead's Ring of Fame just yet.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The loss of defensive end Jared Allen, simply put, is enormous. The Chiefs' apparent band-aid, moving Tamba Hali to right defensive end and sliding defensive tackle Alfonso Boone out to left end, might create more problems than it fixes.

First, look around the league at other Cover Two defenses. How many 305-pound ends do you see lining up in Tampa Bay and Chicago? Even if Boone's transition to end is a shocking success, it still creates a hole inside.

Boone was KC's best defensive tackle a year ago. No matter how good Glenn Dorsey may be (and let's be honest with ourselves – rookie linemen take time to develop), the Chiefs will miss what Boone provided a year ago at tackle if he remains outside.

Top 10 scenario – Rookie defensive end Brian Johnston comes out of nowhere, wins a starting job in training camp, and makes everyone forget about Allen, allowing Boone to return inside and make NFL quarterback sandwiches with Dorsey.

LINEBACKER

No one really knows what the Chiefs have in Napoleon Harris. Is he the Cover Two middle linebacker for the future, or the same player who couldn't stick in Oakland and Minnesota?

Offseason speculation by some media sources have Donnie Edwards moving to the middle this year. While the Chiefs have announced no such plan, how much gas does Edwards even have left in the tank at age 35? Remember, nagging hamstring injuries plagued the veteran last season, particularly at the end of the year.

If Edwards should move, where does that leave the right outside linebacker position? Does free-agent acquisition DeMorrio Williams wind up starting? The Chiefs return the same starters for now (Edwards-Harris-Johnson), but there are plenty of questions about KC's linebacker corps heading into 2008.

Top 10 scenario – Harris locks down the middle linebacker spot and Edwards stays healthy.

SECONDARY

Youth in the secondary coupled with questions about the Chiefs' pass rush should keep Herm Edwards and Cunningham up late Saturday nights this year. There are questions at both cornerback and safety.

The Chiefs are looking for two starters at cornerback. Do they go with old and slow (Patrick Surtain) or athletic but inexperienced (Brandon Flowers)? Do they dare stick two green corners on the field at the same time?

Meanwhile, everyone is wondering what Bernard Pollard's future holds after a lackluster first season a starter. What if third-round pick DaJuan Morgan is forced into starting duty? KC's defense might feature three rookies in the secondary this year – not a recipe for a top 10 defense.

Can you imagine Tom Brady sitting in the pocket all day long this September while Randy Moss blazes through Kansas City's soft zone like a rocket? Should the Patriots sign their old friend Ty Law in the coming months, it's easy to imagine him cracking a smile on the sideline while witnessing such a scenario.

Top 10 scenario – Surtain pulls off a Darrell Green act, a rookie corner emerges from the pack and Pollard turns into a latter-day Steve Atwater.

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