On the surface, it seems like the Kansas City Chiefs' worst nightmare is coming true.
Their first-round pick isn't a starter and still has a lot to learn about becoming a starting nose tackle in the NFL. He's not getting profuse praise from his head coach and the fans and the media have been quick to jump on his early struggles.
It would be a nightmare, if this was their 2009 first-round pick.
It's all about a player, Dontari Poe, who will take his first NFL snap tonight against Arizona. There is still plenty of time for Poe to develop. It's only his first preseason game. Even one preseason game is not going to be enough time to properly evaluate a player like Poe. It might take a year or two.
Poe is a physically imposing guy, but he needs to work on his technique to put it to proper use. The nose tackle position is particularly tough because the player is responsible for two gaps. The Chiefs knew Poe was a project from the start, but they took a calculated risk and drafted him because his talents are so unique.
Even if Poe isn't the starter initially, he's still going to provide the Chiefs with a great rotational player. It's almost a requirement for any good defense to have depth on the defensive line. Keeping the big bodies fresh in the fourth quarter is vital. Poe will be able to do things other players can't do, but he's still learning the basics.
It's possible that GM Scott Pioli is not very good at scouting defensive lineman and an early judgement would make sense, but that wouldn't be a very good bet. Pioli drafted Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork in the first round from 2001 to 2004.
Wilfork, the only nose tackle of the three, only started six games his rookie season. He started six of his first seven games, but then shared time behind the starter Keith Traylor. Ty Warren only started four games his rookie season.
It's perfectly normal for a defensive lineman to take a year to refine his technique and get accustomed to playing the position, particularly one considered as raw as Poe.
When Poe finally gets his first game action, what's not important is who he is playing against or if he gets on the stat board, but if the Cardinals are able to run up the middle.
The nose tackle is primarily responsible for plugging the run up the middle. Derrick Johnson's performance will suffer if big offensive lineman are routinely able to get past the nose tackle.
If all of Poe's snaps come against the second team, it might impact Brandon Siler and Cory Greenwood. Are Williams and Greenwood able to run free or are they routinely caught in the wash? A lot of Poe's performance will be reflected on the linebackers behind him.
Although Poe is still learning and might be struggling in training camp, there's something significant about the actual games. Games bring out the best and worst in players.
There are smart, athletic players that shrink when the pads go on. There are also some players that seem to play much better under the lights.
Poe has a chance in his first game action to quiet his critics, and he's athletic enough to do it. But even if he doesn't shine, it's far too early to worry about Poe or the Chiefs' defense.
It's impossible to know if Poe will develop into the 3-4 nose tackle the Chiefs need, but Pioli and the Chiefs obviously believe in Poe and should be given the benefit of the doubt on his selection.
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