Kansas City Chiefs Camp Battles: Linebacker

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystJuly 10, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 26: Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs defends against the St. Louis Rams during a pre-season game at Arrowhead Stadium  on August 26, 2010 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Rams defeated the Chiefs, 14-10. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The group of linebackers in Kansas City is probably the best in the AFC West due to the presence of Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. The camp competition will be at the spots opposite Hali and Johnson, with the heavy favorites being Javon Belcher and Justin Houston.

The linebackers remain relatively unchanged from 2011, but there's really no reason to mess with a good thing. The Chiefs allowed a lot of rushing yards last season, but much of that was due to the play of the defensive line and not the linebackers and the volume.


Opposite Hali

Houston started 10 games at outside linebacker opposite Hali last season. He was benched in Week 3 in favor of Cameron Sheffield and again from Weeks 5-9 in favor of Andy Studebaker. The more explosive Houston regained his starting spot and finished strong by getting 5.5 sacks in the final five games.

Houston is a great candidate for a breakout year if he can build upon the final five games of the 2011 season. If Houston severely falters, Studebaker and Sheffield will be in competition to back him up as well as Gabe Miller. Miller was one of the team's fifth-round draft choices in 2011, but he was placed on injured reserve last season.

It's Houston's job to lose and the young linebacker that still has plenty of room to grow. His improvement as a pass-rusher will only make Hali more effective as teams are forced to balance their protection schemes.

The Chiefs had the third-fewest sacks in 2011 and while it is partly due to the fewest number of pass attempts against Houston's development will go a long way to improving those numbers.


Opposite Johnson

If there is a weak link, it's inside linebacker Javon Belcher. While Belcher is not a great linebacker, he was serviceable for the Chiefs and they should be content with him as the starter in 2012, but that doesn't mean the Chiefs wont try to provide some competition.

Brandon Siler was signed last year to push Belcher for snaps, but an Achilles injury sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. Siler might not get up to speed fast enough to mount a real competition with Belcher, but he still figures to be a key reserve and contribute on special teams.

The Chiefs also added Leon Williams as a reserve this offseason. He last started a game in 2007 for the Cleveland Browns under Romeo Crennel. Coaches like familiar players like Williams because they know exactly what to expect from them. Williams will contribute on special teams and provide good depth at inside linebacker.


Special Teams

Corey Gatewood has spent the last two seasons as a special teams player and was rewarded for his good play with a four-year deal in January that should keep his roster spot secure.