The Kansas City Chiefs defense is filled with its fair share of recognizable names that have had moderate to good success in the NFL, but the pieces all haven’t come together recently to help restore the fear that haunted the opposition back in the 1990s.
It is expected that Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers will continue to play at a level synonymous with those at the top of their respective positions. Hali has the chance to become an elite pass-rusher if everything comes together.
It is imperative that Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson continue to progress as quality book ends in the 3-4 defense and that newly signed cornerback Stanford Routt shows that he is a viable replacement for the departed Brandon Carr (Dallas Cowboys).
To an extent, the Chiefs also know what to expect from either Jovan Belcher or Brandon Siler at middle linebacker opposite of Johnson, and safety Kendrick Lewis, now in his third year.
But for the Chiefs to continue to play at the level they did to finish out the 2011 season (going 2-1 and allowing only 11 points per game), there are three players that will need to answer questions on the field: safety Eric Berry, outside linebacker Justin Houston and nose tackle Dontari Poe.
As a rookie, Berry was able to prove that he was worth the hype surrounding him coming out of the University of Tennessee. And his playmaking ability resulted in a Pro Bowl selection.
He was supposed to take the next level into elite status, joining the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But an ACL injury in Week 1 cost him his entire 2011 season, slightly derailing those plans and raising questions as to how quickly—if at all—Berry can return to form.
Berry is on a mission to help his team. The quicker he can regain the strength and trust in his knee and his ability to make plays, the better chance the Chiefs have in owning one of the top defenses in the NFL.
Justin Houston came into the NFL with question marks surrounding his character after testing positive for marijuana at the combine last year, causing him to slip to the Chiefs in the third round of the draft. And after a slow start, more questions started to crop up about his potential contributions on the field and why he was ever once considered a first-round talent.
It took some time, but Houston ended the season strong, accumulating 5.5 sacks over the final five games of the season.
With Hali on the other side and a head coach Romeo Crennel’s defensive pedigree leading the charge, Houston could see a major increase in production, something that would bode well for the Chiefs’ defense.
Now that the off-the-field matters are all settled, football is the No. 1 priority.
Can Poe shed the “workout warrior” image, translating all the potential into on-field success and become the nose tackle that the Chiefs have failed to develop over the years? If he can do just that, his impact will have a resounding effect on everyone across the entire defense.
Poe will create more chances for Dorsey and Jackson to win their battles in the trenches. Hali and Houston will have a straighter path to the opposing quarterback. And the backfield will be left out to dry less often over the course of a game.
Is it a tall order to assume that Berry, Houston and Poe will all perform to their maximum capabilities? Probably. But there are certainly enough pieces around them to ensure that they aren’t the only ones to be counted on.
It is honestly a matter of how quickly these three can trust in themselves and overcome the questions surrounding them as they enter the 2012 season. When that happens, the Chiefs can pick up where left off in 2011.