In our final installment of this year's "What Would Pioli Do?" series, we'll take a look at one last…
Kansas City Chiefs: The Next Generation
It has been a little over ten years since Scott Pioli, Todd Haley, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel have created a team from scratch. Now this fleet assembles again, trying to resurrect a once proud franchise. Before the addition of Weis and Crennel, Pioli and Haley's initial task was to try to establish some identity with this young team.
Pioli and Haley inherited one of the youngest teams in the league. They had talent challenges at every single position. Former Head Coach Herman Edwards' conservative approach to building a football team was a far cry from Haley's high-flying offense that he established in Arizona as their offensive coordinator. After a season of failed experiments and a fire drill of position changes, what did we find out in terms of identity for this football team? Did the offensive lines late season improvement offer enough to regard them as solidified? Was Derrick Johnson's, two interception, stellar season ending performance a signal he has officially become the player everyone thought he would be when selected 15th overall in the 2005 draft?
Oh so many questions, how will we ever find the answers? Who is this next generation of Chiefs? Maybe we need to look to the stars. Take a journey. Maybe we need to go to a place, boldly go, where no sports fans have ever been before. Maybe we need to go to….
"Space, the final fronti- wait…wait…Chiefs, the 2010 roster!"
Last year this offensive line gave up 45 sacks, probably 45 too many if you ask "Captain" Pioli and his 63 million dollar quarterback Matt Cassell. The additions of pro-bowlers Casey Weigman and Ryan Lilja will help to keep Cassell upright which the Chiefs hope will lead to more offensive production. The addition of Charlie Weis to the coaching staff makes for an interesting dynamic when paired with the offensive minded Todd Haley. But who will have the final say? That's a debate for another day.
The Chiefs had little to offer in terms of offense last year until Larry Johnson was run out and Jamal Charles was thrust in to the starting lineup midway through season. The offensive line eventually stiffened up and enabled Charles to get his burners going. If that same line from the season finale shows up for next season, they could have the best offensive line since the ‘Crimson Tide' of 03' (Roaf, Shields, Weigman, Waters, and Tait). The "Captain" seems to agree. At his pre-draft meeting with reporters Pioli had this to say when asked about his offensive line:
"At the end of the season we were getting better on offense…I'm pretty comfortable with Ryan O'Callaghan (at right guard)…I think we are comfortable with O'Callaghan," the Captain proclaimed.
Ikechuku Ndukwa, Colin Brown, Barry Richardson, and Rudy Niswanger offer some depth but they're all still unproven. This line has top notch potential but the amount of question marks makes it a position of concern heading into the draft.
A similar problem lies within the receivers. Dwayne Bowe, who wants a new contract, and Chris Chambers have widely been regarded as having All-Pro potential. Unfortunately, they also have a perception of being gross underachievers. Bowe still has a chance to assert himself as a top tier wide out in the league but the 31-year-old Chambers window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Beyond Bowe and Chambers the depth chart becomes, well…small. Although a favorite and often cited example of "the right 53" Lance Long contributed very little in production offering only 20 receptions and 178 yards for his entire sophomore campaign. Without some help at receiver, Weis's hands are tied.
When a defense gives up an average of 388 yards per game and an average of 4.7 per rushing attempt, you have significant holes to fill. The Chiefs have devoted four, first or second round draft picks, in the last three years to the defensive side of the ball and a pair of top five picks on defensive line in the past eight years. All this attention to the defensive side of the ball has garnered only the 31st overall defense in 2008 and 30th overall defense in 2009. Pioli again could have his pick of top tier defensive talent with their number five overall pick on Thursday. Both safety Eric Berry of Tennessee and linebacker Rolando McClain of Alabama would be considered the two best at their position. If Pioli decides to pull the trigger on either Berry or McClain with their 5th overall pick, Romeo Crennel would inherit a defense full of top round talent.
McClain would be a much-needed boost to a depleted set of linebackers. Derrick Johnson and Mike Vrabel are the only legitimate starters. However the former Patriots age makes him a liability especially when you consider lack of production (one sack) a year ago. The other two starters Demorrio Williams and Corey Mays seemed to disappear from games and offered few big game changing plays. Both Jovan Belcher and Andy Studebaker received playing time but both are regarded as little more than special teamers though one of them could be a surprise starter (Belcher) this year if Crennel can coach either of them up.
At safety Jarrad Page could probably be penciled in at one of the safety positions but I don't think anyone on the Chiefs coaching staff wants to start another season with Jon McGraw as his first officer.
The most important position however in a 3-4 defense is the nose tackle spot. Rod Edwards had a solid season last year but nobody believes he is the answer for the future at that position. At 30 years of age, he is not likely to become a pro-bowler at this point in his career. When Crennel's defensive units were at their best in New England, he had mountainous men in either Ted Washington or Vince Wilfork anchoring that spot. Ron Edwards is like neither of these men and the Chiefs have nobody even close to the type of player Crennel looks for to make his defense work.
The Chiefs got burned regularly last year in their secondary. With only 22 total sacks on the season last year it is hard to say whether this is a result of poor linebacker and safety play or the result of little to no pass rush on the quarterback. Regardless, safety, linebacker, and nose tackle are all positions the Chiefs need to address if they want to improve their much-maligned defense of the past decade.
Kansas City has seven positions of need, two on offense (right tackle and wide receiver) and five on defense (Three linebackers, safety, and nose tackle). With the addition of Lilja, Weigman, and running back Thomas Jones the Chiefs seem to have built an offense through free agency they can at least go to battle with. The same can't be said on the defensive side of the ball since the Chiefs only off-season acquisition was journeyman defensive lineman Shaun Smith,
With the lack of attention to the defensive side of the ball to date, you can draw two different conclusions; one it's overwhelmingly clear that the defense is the weakest side of the ball. Second, expect the Chiefs to go defensive heavy in next weeks NFL draft.
With the fifth overall pick the Chiefs will have multiple options from the defensive side of the ball to choose from. Eric Berry is expected to be available at the five spot but the Chiefs taking the Tennessee safety with that pick is not a forgone conclusion. Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff told Sports Illustrated's Peter King at the March owners meeting, "I was talking to Scott Pioli about Berry, and I said, ‘Scott, this guy's your pick.' And he said, ‘You know how I feel about safeties that early.' "
"Captain" Pioli has shown a history of shifting positions in the draft so assuming the Chiefs are picking at five may be a bit premature. It's not out of the question that the "Captain" could try to trade up. Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are rated as the top two interior defensive linemen but neither project to be true 3-4 nose tackles. Terrance Cody is the best true nose tackle in this draft and is projected anywhere from late first round to midway through the second round. The Chiefs may be able to trade up to get Cody late in the first round but with almost half the teams in the NFL running the 3-4 defense, it is not likely he will fall to the Chiefs at thirty-sixth overall.
So if not a safety and not a D-linemen then what options do the Chiefs have? McClain seems to be the best fit but may be a stretch at #5. "Captain" Pioli hinted that he may be interested in trading out of this pick.
"I may have all the desire in the world to trade up or back, but if you don't have a trade partner, it doesn't matter," he told reporters.
But with no picks in rounds six or seven, trading down from five may be the Chiefs number one option. Unless a team projects the Chiefs will take Berry or Notre Dame Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, it is not likely that they will be able to find a trade partner. If the Chiefs believe Mclain is their best option, don't be surprised if they take him anyway after reaching on Tyson Jackson a year ago. We know full well that the <"Captain" is not afraid to take the man he wants regardless of the position.
Still the "Captain" knows that his defense is the weakest link. With the egos of Crennel, Weis, and Haley, it will be interesting to see who gets their needs satisfied on Thursday night's preseason extravaganza.
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