Chiefs’ defensive investments on verge of paying off

KANSAS CITY—If the Chiefs are going to be significantly better in 2010—and a team coming off a 4-12 record has much room for improvement—their young players on defense must make big-time contributions.

The Chiefs have invested a lot on defense in recent years. They have selected a defensive player with their No. 1 pick in five of the last six drafts, including each of the last three years, when they had a top-five pick overall. Now, it’s time for those players to step up and be pillars on defense.

Tyson Jackson must improve on a shaky rookie season with the Chiefs.
Tyson Jackson must improve on a shaky rookie season with the Chiefs.

"They have to be," second-year coach Todd Haley said Monday, shortly after the team’s fourth practice of the offseason. "What I’ve been taught about the key to being a good team year in and year out is developing your young players. You’ve got to draft well, but then you’d better develop your young players. And that’s what I feel like is happening."

The Chiefs’ defense has undergone an evolution. It has changed from a 4-3 scheme under former coach Herm Edwards and coordinator Gunther Cunningham to a 3-4 hybrid last season under Haley to a more traditional 3-4 front under Romeo Crennel—the team’s third defensive coordinator in as many years.

Last season, the Chiefs finished 30th in the league in total defense, 31st in run defense and 29th in points allowed. They recorded 22 sacks—not a great number by league averages but a step up from ’08, when they had just 10 sacks, the fewest by a team in one season in NFL history. And they allowed too many explosive plays by the opponent.

"I’m not talking five or six; I’m talking 20 plays," Haley said. "We had plays on cutbacks that were going for 60 yards and a touchdown. Those are killers."

The Chiefs will improve defensively in 2010 if these five No. 1 draft picks contribute as expected.

DE/NT Glenn Dorsey (2008)

Dorsey struggled from the beginning last year. He came in out of shape and spent much of the season trying to regain his stamina. Skeptics wonder if the former 4-3 tackle is a good fit in a 3-4 scheme, but Haley says Dorsey has a unique skill set that allows him to play end and, sometimes, nose tackle.

Haley’s take: "This year, he didn’t go backwards. He came in way ahead of where he was. I think he’s got the right mindset to become a good player. To me, he has some versatility. If he’s doing the things he has to do, we’ll have him in there and he’ll end up being a contributor. And he has to be a big-time contributor."

DE Tyson Jackson (2009)

His rookie season was a real education for Jackson, who didn’t expect to be challenged as much as he was week after week. He has made gains in the weight room this offseason and should show improvement in ’10. His primary role will be to stop the run and keep blockers off the linebackers.

Haley’s take: "If you’re expecting big-time stats from him, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a lot of the other things that he’ll do that will allow other people to be productive."

OLB Tamba Hali (2006)

Despite making the switch from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 linebacker and sometimes struggling in coverage, Hali led the team with 8 1/2 sacks last season. He excels in rushing the passer and easily would have finished in double digits if he could have brought more quarterbacks to the ground.

Haley’s take: "He was one of our best, if not the best, players on defense last year. He’s worth watching on a down-to-down basis just to see a guy that plays with an unbelievable motor every snap. He’s relentless."

ILB Derrick Johnson (2005)

After starting 58 games in his first four seasons, Johnson made only three starts last season and saw his role reduced mostly to special teams. But he became only the third linebacker in NFL history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in one game—in the season finale at Denver. If Johnson can regain his starting position and display sideline-to-sideline running ability, he should be a good fit in Crennel’s scheme.

Haley’s take: "He’s the type of guy who should be productive in this defense. He’s in a position where he can make a lot of plays if he continues to push and go in the direction he’s going."

S Eric Berry (2010)

The fifth-overall pick last month, Berry was a high-rated player who met one of Kansas City’s biggest needs: A safety who should prevent opponents from turning those 5- or 6-yard gains into 30- or 40-yard plays. It might not be significant, but Berry ran with the first-team defense Monday after being third-stringer last week.

Haley’s take: "If the early indicators are any kind of sign, he should have a chance to come in and be a productive young guy for us."

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.  SN Redskins correspondent John Keim contributed to this story.

KANSAS CITY—If the Chiefs are going to be significantly better in 2010—and a team coming off a 4-12 record has much room for improvement—their young players on defense must make big-time contributions.

The Chiefs have invested a lot on defense in recent years. They have selected a defensive player with their No. 1 pick in five of the last six drafts, including each of the last three years, when they had a top-five pick overall. Now, it’s time for those players to step up and be pillars on defense.

Tyson Jackson must improve on a shaky rookie season with the Chiefs.
Tyson Jackson must improve on a shaky rookie season with the Chiefs.

"They have to be," second-year coach Todd Haley said Monday, shortly after the team’s fourth practice of the offseason. "What I’ve been taught about the key to being a good team year in and year out is developing your young players. You’ve got to draft well, but then you’d better develop your young players. And that’s what I feel like is happening."

The Chiefs’ defense has undergone an evolution. It has changed from a 4-3 scheme under former coach Herm Edwards and coordinator Gunther Cunningham to a 3-4 hybrid last season under Haley to a more traditional 3-4 front under Romeo Crennel—the team’s third defensive coordinator in as many years.

Last season, the Chiefs finished 30th in the league in total defense, 31st in run defense and 29th in points allowed. They recorded 22 sacks—not a great number by league averages but a step up from ’08, when they had just 10 sacks, the fewest by a team in one season in NFL history. And they allowed too many explosive plays by the opponent.

"I’m not talking five or six; I’m talking 20 plays," Haley said. "We had plays on cutbacks that were going for 60 yards and a touchdown. Those are killers."

The Chiefs will improve defensively in 2010 if these five No. 1 draft picks contribute as expected.

DE/NT Glenn Dorsey (2008)

Dorsey struggled from the beginning last year. He came in out of shape and spent much of the season trying to regain his stamina. Skeptics wonder if the former 4-3 tackle is a good fit in a 3-4 scheme, but Haley says Dorsey has a unique skill set that allows him to play end and, sometimes, nose tackle.

Haley’s take: "This year, he didn’t go backwards. He came in way ahead of where he was. I think he’s got the right mindset to become a good player. To me, he has some versatility. If he’s doing the things he has to do, we’ll have him in there and he’ll end up being a contributor. And he has to be a big-time contributor."

DE Tyson Jackson (2009)

His rookie season was a real education for Jackson, who didn’t expect to be challenged as much as he was week after week. He has made gains in the weight room this offseason and should show improvement in ’10. His primary role will be to stop the run and keep blockers off the linebackers.

Haley’s take: "If you’re expecting big-time stats from him, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a lot of the other things that he’ll do that will allow other people to be productive."

OLB Tamba Hali (2006)

Despite making the switch from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 linebacker and sometimes struggling in coverage, Hali led the team with 8 1/2 sacks last season. He excels in rushing the passer and easily would have finished in double digits if he could have brought more quarterbacks to the ground.

Haley’s take: "He was one of our best, if not the best, players on defense last year. He’s worth watching on a down-to-down basis just to see a guy that plays with an unbelievable motor every snap. He’s relentless."

ILB Derrick Johnson (2005)

After starting 58 games in his first four seasons, Johnson made only three starts last season and saw his role reduced mostly to special teams. But he became only the third linebacker in NFL history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in one game—in the season finale at Denver. If Johnson can regain his starting position and display sideline-to-sideline running ability, he should be a good fit in Crennel’s scheme.

Haley’s take: "He’s the type of guy who should be productive in this defense. He’s in a position where he can make a lot of plays if he continues to push and go in the direction he’s going."

S Eric Berry (2010)

The fifth-overall pick last month, Berry was a high-rated player who met one of Kansas City’s biggest needs: A safety who should prevent opponents from turning those 5- or 6-yard gains into 30- or 40-yard plays. It might not be significant, but Berry ran with the first-team defense Monday after being third-stringer last week.

Haley’s take: "If the early indicators are any kind of sign, he should have a chance to come in and be a productive young guy for us."

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.  SN Redskins correspondent John Keim contributed to this story.

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