(Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)
Kansas City's defense was one of the worst in league history last year, ranking near the bottom of the barrel in nearly every major category. That comes as no surprise, given Edwards and Cunningham were on completely different pages.
Edwards has built his coaching career on the Cover 2 defense. Its success, and his responsibility for that success, is what got him his first job as a head coach. That defense is based on building zones that confuse quarterbacks and narrow their passing lanes.
Cunningham built his reputation on guys like Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith getting to and in the face of quarterbacks. He was known for his relentlessly aggressive units who would blitz, blitz again, and blitz some more. Blending those two styles was a large part of what cost both Edwards and Cunningham their jobs this off season.
Now, make no mistake about it, a new defense has arrived. Haley and Pioli have decided what defense they're going to run, and they've gone all-in on the 3-4. There is no wavering. Sure, they will run some four-man fronts, but every NFL team runs multiple packages. The Chiefs' base defense will be a 3-4.
The riskiest part about switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4, is the first year. Often, a defensive end in the 3-4 would be a sub-par end in the 4-3. There are different physical demands. An end in the 3-4 makes his money on first and second downs, whereas many 4-3 ends have made a king's ransom on almost third downs alone.
When the decision was made to go to the 3-4, many Chiefs fans probably looked at linebacker as the biggest area of need, especially considering the problems they had at that position last season.
However, the team's biggest needs were really at end, where they had no true 3-4 specialists, hence, the drafting of Jackson and third-round pick Alex Magee. Both are tall with long arms and can play the run. Now, last year's week-one starters at DE, Tamba Hali and Turk McBride, are practicing at outside linebacker.
Pioli has said he sees Hali in primarily an attacking role on passing downs. Aside from last season, Hali has been productive in the sack column, and this role might fit him well.
Pioli has added possibly four new defensive starters this off season, which is a lot by any measure. Veteran linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas have both played in the 3-4 before and project as starters. Jackson will almost assuredly start as well.
The fourth possible starter is Magee, who fits well into the 3-4 system. The man he will be battling against in training camp is last year's fifth-overall selection, Glenn Dorsey.
Dorsey was one of the most ballyhooed defensive linemen to come out of the college ranks in quite some time, but he fits better in the 4-3 scheme, where he can shoot gaps and get upfield. He is a bit of a tweener in the 3-4. He is not the prototypical space eater you see playing tackle in the 3-4, and at 6'0", he's much shorter than most ends too.
Dorsey will be one of the most watched players when the Chiefs head to River Falls, Wisc. this summer, as everyone is waiting to see how he fits in the new system.
In order to assure a smooth transition, the holdovers from the Edwards era will have to adjust quickly to the new defense and the off season additions will have to stay healthy. If that happens, look for vast improvement on this side of the ball in 2009.