Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris told the Kansas City Star this week that he can't understand the rumors suggesting his starting spot may be in jeopardy.
"We were 4-12, so somebody's going to get blamed I guess," he said. "But what did I do? I led the team in tackles."
There's no arguing that point – Harris did indeed lead the Chiefs in tackles last season. And for the first half of the season, he played like the middle linebacker the Chiefs surely hoped he'd be when they signed him in free agency.
Through the first half of last season, Harris had two games in which he racked up double-digit tackles, and was just shy of that mark in two other contests. He also added an interception and 1.5 sacks on top of it.
But in the second half, Harris just seemed to disappear. He didn't register a single sack, interception, or double-digit tackle performance until he finally exploded with 18 stops against the Jets in the season's final game. Kansas City's defensive coaches were reportedly frustrated with the way Harris stopped playing his assigned gaps.
It should be noted, however, that Harris was hardly the only player on KC's defense to experience a slump in the final eight games of the 2007 season. His absence was still noticeable, though, as the Chiefs' run defense collapsed. Those team-leading tackles began taking place five to 10 yards down the field rather than near the line of scrimmage. The player who initially looked like a key addition to the defense became no more of an impact player than the departed Kawika Mitchell had been a year earlier.
Despite all of this, the only addition the Chiefs made to their linebackers in the offseason was outside linebacker Demorrio Williams. On the surface, that move wouldn't seem to impact Harris at all, but rumors (from the Kansas City Star) sprung up quickly that the Chiefs may move Donnie Edwards to the middle with Williams manning Edwards' previous spot at right outside linebacker. If either scenario took place, it would leave Harris without a starting job.
Harris would certainly appear to have the advantage, however, as Edwards has not regularly played middle linebacker in a Cover Two defensive scheme and is several years removed from his last stint in the middle of a 4-3 defense.
So, in theory, the only person Harris has to compete with is himself. All he has to do is perform well enough this offseason that the Chiefs aren't enticed by the thought of replacing him with an unknown commodity. That isn't too much to ask, is it?
It's definitely a change for Harris from the situation he walked into last year, when he was essentially handed the starting job by the team's decision to let Mitchell leave in free agency. But things have changed in Kansas City – with the team in the midst of a full rebuild, the list of people assured a starting position is shorter than ever.
Hopefully, this development will be a positive one for the Chiefs' middle linebacker. Perhaps having an insecure, "Napoleon complex" about his status will light a fire under Harris as he fights to prove he's the best man for the job. A little motivation never hurt anyone, and having Glenn Dorsey in front of him to keep offensive lineman occupied is an added bonus.
But no matter what happens from here on out, it's unlikely Harris will be the only Chiefs' veteran making these sorts of comments in the coming months. The youth movement is in full swing, and there's an influx of young, hungry players in Kansas City. The side effect – and it's a positive one – is more players feeling the heat from increased competition.
A Napoleon Complex
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