After the Chiefs lost veterans Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith to free agency earlier this week, Kansas City fans and media began to focus intently on the team’s gaping hole at nose tackle heading into training camp.
Hardly anyone believed that a combination of three-year veteran Anthony Toribio and rookie sixth-round draft pick Jerrell Powe could result in a playoff-caliber defense for the Chiefs.
That said, it became altogether obvious that general manager Scott Pioli had to sign someone through free agency, and almost everyone focused on former 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.
Franklin, however, didn’t fit the mold for what the Chiefs needed at nose tackle.
After the retirement of linebacker Mike Vrabel, the Chiefs defense is in desperate need of a leader, and preferably one with playoff experience to lead this young yet extremely talented defense.
The Chiefs also need someone at nose tackle who does what every great nose tackle is known for, being a force in the running game while gobbling up blockers and allowing the linebackers behind him to run free and make plays.
Franklin has never been that type of player for the 49ers, nor was Edwards or Smith that type of player for the Chiefs last season.
In fact, over the past decade it could be argued that the only nose tackles in the NFL who have truly been the type of player the Chiefs defense has desperately needed, have played in either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
The 3-4 defenses for the Ravens and Steelers have been the best in the league, both known for their playoff-caliber dominance against the run, and the NFL’s best linebacking units.
So while the Steelers don’t appear ready to part with Casey Hampton anytime soon, the nose tackle leading the way on all those Baltimore defenses, 12-year veteran Kelly Gregg, was sitting out there available.
In fact, after choosing to keep Gregg back in 2007 and let the aforementioned Franklin move on to the 49ers, the Ravens finally chose to let Gregg go in favor of last year’s second-round pick Terrence “Mount” Cody.
For Pioli, it quickly became crystal clear that Gregg should be the only player in his crosshairs to fill the team’s vacancy for a starting nose tackle.
Over the past five seasons, and note that Gregg missed all of 2008, Gregg produced more tackles than both Edwards and Franklin combined.
Gregg racked up 242 tackles in that span, compared to just 110 for Edwards and 128 for Franklin, respectively.
He also registered more sacks (9.5) than Edwards (8.5) or Franklin (3) during that same span and has 19.5 for his career.
For some Chiefs fans, Gregg’s frame (6’ and 320 pounds), relentless style of play, and jersey number (97) will quickly remind them of another nose tackle who played on some great Chiefs teams in the early 90s, in former Chiefs fan favorite Dan Saleaumua.
Kelly Gregg is not just a nice fit at nose tackle for the Chiefs defense, but he is the ideal fit and may very well represent the perfect player to help lead this team back to the playoffs in 2011.