Warpaint Roundtable – Offseason Edition XVI

This week we talk starters, the 3-4, Derrick Johnson and which players will break out in 2009.

What are the chances that Derrick Johnson picks up his game with improved talent around him in the linebacker corps, along with better coaching and a better system?

Nick Athan: It's a contract year for Johnson, and coaching was an issue in the past, but he also needs to work extremely hard in practice. He can't just expect to play well on Sunday if he doesn't give 100 percent in training camp. In watching practice film with the coaching staff a year ago in River Falls, Johnson's effort was a topic of conversation. More is required.

He has the talent, so whatever plans the new coaching staff has for him, they have to light DJ's fire and keep it lit. Having Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas around will help. They are pros, and clearly Pioli brought both of them to help Johnson. But it's about time he shows he was worth the draft choice the Chiefs spent on him.

Michael Ash: We've been waiting for Johnson to "break loose" since his rookie season. At this point, there's no reason to think it'll happen unless he actually goes out and shows us.

His performance last season probably cost him a lot of money, as he could have been easily re-signed to a new contract during the season if his play warranted it. Now you have to wonder if it may cost him his job. If DJ doesn't deliver this year, Pioli and Haley have nothing invested in him and they'll be looking for linebackers anyway. Vrabel and Thomas won't be here long.

C.E. Wendler: At this point Johnson has been messed with so much, any recovery he makes toward being a Pro Bowl-level player would be astonishing. He's played in different schemes almost every season of his career. He's had four different position coaches now. At times he has been productive, but it's not hard to figure out why he hasn't reached his potential.

Will he break out this season? It's hard to say. Inside linebackers in the 3-4 don't get much publicity if they aren't named Tedy Bruschi or Ray Lewis. Johnson is too small to play outside in the scheme. In an effort to be positive, one area DJ may excel in is bringing the blitz up the middle, a role we often see inside linebackers take in the 3-4.


Who are going to be the starters on the offensive line and defensive line?

Nick Athan: Tyson Jackson, Tank Tyler and Alex Magee are the best bets on the defensive line. I can't see anyone else on the current roster, except possibly Alfonso Boone, playing end for the Chiefs this year. So backups are still needed for Jackson and Magee.

On the offensive line, Branden Albert at left tackle, Brian Waters at left guard (until he's traded), Eric Ghiaciuc at center, Mike Goff at right guard and rookie Colin Brown at right tackle. That leaves Herb Taylor, Rudy Niswanger, Damion McIntosh and Barry Richardson as backups. If Waters is dealt, Goff would move to left guard and Niswanger would go to right guard.


Will McIntosh return at right tackle?
Jamie Squire - Getty

Michael Ash: From left to right, Branden Albert, Brian Waters, Rudy Niswanger, Mike Goff, and Damion McIntosh. Right tackle could change if the Chiefs sign Levi Jones or another veteran lineman in the coming months, but I expect nothing from Barry Richardson or Colin Brown. The only way Eric Ghiaciuc starts at center is if the coaches move Niswanger to another position.

On the defensive line, it's shaping up as Tyson Jackson on one end, Tank Tyler or Ron Edwards in the middle, and then Glenn Dorsey.

C.E. Wendler: There's too much going on with the offensive line to predict anything right now. Eric Ghiaciuc doesn't impress me, but we have no idea if the Chiefs want him to start at center, with Niswanger moving to guard. Is Brian Waters going to be traded? Will Damion McIntosh get hurt, as he usually does? The line is in a state of flux right now. I'd say only Branden Albert has a job locked down.

As for the defensive line, it'd be a shock if it's anyone but Jackson, Tyler and Magee out there starting. I'm actually a little surprised the Chiefs haven't tried to foster more competition at the end spots by pumping up Dorsey and Boone a bit.


Moving to the 3-4 obviously depreciates the worth of first-round picks Tamba Hali and Glenn Dorsey who were drafted to play end and tackle respectively in a 4-3. Wouldn't the Chiefs have been better served to stay with the 4-3 and draft Aaron Curry to play middle linebacker?

Nick Athan: Scott Pioli is a system guy. He's been around teams that implement and have had success with the 3-4 scheme. When he joined the Patriots nine years ago, not many NFL teams used that defense because it was hard to find talent for it up front, but in New England he found those players and now he's trying to do the same thing in Kansas City.

Last month's draft was key. When Pioli added Jackson and Magee he made a stand by passing on Curry. But the entire offseason has been built on making this transition and it's too late to turn back now.

Michael Ash: The only reasonable argument against moving to a 3-4 is that Glenn Dorsey doesn't appear to fit. Scott Pioli isn't going to lose any sleep worrying about whether a 3-4 will depreciate the value of Tamba Hali.

But the entire issue boils down to this: do we want Pioli to run the Chiefs his way, or do we want to handcuff him with the decisions of the previous era? If we want Pioli running the team his way, then moving to the 3-4 is absolutely the right decision. He spent this entire decade evaluating and drafting players based on their ability to fit into a 3-4.

There's no reason for the Chiefs to stay with a 4-3. What are we clinging to? Kansas City's defense was lousy last year. The front seven was an embarrassment. It's not like Pioli is changing something that's been successful. If there's ever been a time to make a change, this is it.

C.E. Wendler: Staying with the 4-3 would have required the Chiefs to find another pass-rushing defensive end, and also would have required them to find another linebacker. Obviously that linebacker could have been Curry. But where were the Chiefs supposed to find their replacement for Jared Allen? Certainly we know this was a weak year for pass rushers in the draft.

Pioli may have looked at that draft class and saw more potential for a 3-4 defense than a 4-3. Hence, the Chiefs end up with Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee, and are really only a dominant nose tackle and another pass rusher from having a competent front seven. That could easily come via next year's draft. But why reach for 4-3 pieces if they aren't there?


Which second and third-year players on the current roster do you see stepping up their game in 2009?

Nick Athan: Tight end Brad Cottam has the work ethic to succeed in this offense. He's not going to be Tony Gonzalez, but he doesn't need to be. He can catch the ball over the middle and has deceptive speed. He could provide a big target on third down for quarterback Matt Cassel.

On the other side of the ball, I like defensive tackle T.J. Jackson. He has upside and if he plays well enough, the Chiefs could cut Ron Edwards. He needs to add bulk to play in the middle of this defense, but he had a great training camp and OTA period last year.


Can Flowers excel under Haley?
AP

Michael Ash: There are several I hope to see step up, but for a no-brainer choice, Dwayne Bowe is the obvious answer. He has no alternative but to step up and become the Chiefs' top offensive weapon with Tony Gonzalez off to Atlanta. We also can't discount the influence Todd Haley will have on Bowe, although that may not become evident for another year or two.

C.E. Wendler: Brandon Flowers played so well with no pass rush last season, it's exciting to think about what he might be able to do with an improved front seven supporting him this season. The Patriots, under Pioli, had no trouble getting great production from one cornerback after another. One as talented as Flowers should certainly find his way.

Despite all the negativity around him, you have to actually be excited about Tamba Hali if he can drop to about 255 pounds. Less playing time might actually make Hali a more effective pass rusher on third downs. In previous seasons he's been worn down from butting heads with larger offensive tackles for 45 plays a game. If he's fresh when the Chiefs need a sack, it might make for some big plays.

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