Chiefs Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

It took more than a decade of failed attempts – including three in the top 10 – before the Chiefs selected a defensive lineman that lived-up to his first round status… and boy, even after all that heartache and disappointment, this man was more than worth the wait.

I’m of course talking about Dontari Poe, who’s quickly establishing himself as one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. All the freakish athletic skill he displayed in his combine workout has translated to the playing field, making him a Pro Bowler and an already dominant force in the middle of Kansas City’s defense after just two professional seasons. Poe also looks like the only player on the Chiefs defensive line with a defined role entering training camp.

Tyson Jackson, we hardly knew ye…
Actually, I take that back – we knew ye all too well.

After signing a big new contract this with his buddy Scott Pioli (now in Atlanta), Kansas City’s former third overall pick left a pretty sizeable hole on the defensive line. For all his shortcomings, Tyson was one hell of a run defender. Unfortunately the NFL has been transforming into a passing league over the last half-decade or so, rendering Jackson into more of a contributor’s role than a player worthy of starting.

Retroactively, the lone free agent signing of note for Kansas City this offseason was former Raiders defensive tackle Vance Walker, who figures to step-into the left defensive end spot vacated by Jackson. Part of the Chiefs defensive transformation (if you will) is geared toward pressuring opposing quarterbacks. One of my themes entering this offseason was that Bob Sutton needed to sacrifice some run defending in order to boost his pass rush… the Walker/Jackson swap is a perfect example of that principle. Terez Paylor offered up a few stats to back me up as part of Walker’s welcoming interview.

When Mike DeVito came over from the Jets last offseason, he was billed as a key acquisition that would ease the loss of Glenn Dorsey. He didn’t deliver on that exactly, as Allen Bailey essentially split time with him at right defensive end in 2013 and ultimately played more snaps than the newcomer. Much like Tyson Jackson, stopping the run has always been DeVito’s forte but if this piece from Randy Covitz is any indication, 2014 could be a renaissance of sorts for him.

Following an inconsistent career at THE U, Allen Bailey was the 86th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Since then, he’s established himself as the 86th best defensive lineman on the roster. I don’t mean to be coarse, but for all that athleticism and his Adonis-like build, Bailey has shown he falls into that “Looks like Tarzan; plays like Jane” category. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract so my cynicism tells me he’ll probably have a breakout season just in time to get paid.

Mike Catapano flashed some pass rushing savvy despite very few looks in the defensive rotation during his rookie campaign. His senior year at Princeton was extremely productive however, earning the Ivy League’s defensive player of the year thanks to 12 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. He’s a lot like Wallace Gilberry, who had 14 sacks in three seasons as a reserve for the Chiefs – an undersized player that just knows how to get after the quarterback. Catapano is a bit of a tweener (kind of Tamba Hali) in that he doesn’t seem agile enough to play 3-4 outside linebacker and lacks the strength to play defensive end full-time… though that may be changing, as reports suggest Catapano is up to nearly 300 pounds.

Rotational guys like Jaye Howard and Kyle Love will get plenty of looks in preseason but likely don’t figure into the team’s long-term plans.

Given Bob Sutton’s propensity to change fronts, the addition of Dee Ford in the first round and the league trending toward more three and four WR sets, the Chiefs may only employ one or two defensive lineman fairly often. At most, Kansas City plays three down linemen in their base package so the competition for snaps should be fierce. On the plus side – this should mean the group as a whole won’t wear-down late in games.

Prediction: KC keeps five linemen – Bailey, Walker, Catapano, DeVito & Poe

The remaining schedule of previews:

July 16: Linebackers
July 18: Cornerbacks
July 20: Safeties
July 22: Kickers
July 24: Training Camp Begins

 

And don’t forget to check out my thoughts on the Chiefs offense:

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line

 

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