Kansas City Chiefs: The Key Linebacker Competition to Watch NFL Preseason Week 1

Taylor GreenContributor IAugust 12, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 31:  Andy Studebaker #96 and Tamba Hali #91 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate after a tackle during the game against the Buffalo Bills on October 31, 2010  at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After the retirement of Mike Vrabel, the Kansas City Chiefs have the starting outside linebacker position up for grabs.  The most likely player to step into the starting role is Andy Studebaker; however, if he does not deliver in the preseason, he could lose that position to rookie third-round pick Justin Houston.

Over the first three years of Studebaker’s career, he has accumulated 59 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.  In his first start in 2009, filling in for Mike Vrabel against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Studebaker forced two interceptions and helped the Chiefs with their biggest win of that season.

Justin Houston was originality slated as a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft; however, a reported failed drug test at the NFL combine caused Houston to fall in the draft.  If Houston plays up to his potential, he could easily end up being the steal of the third round. 

After moving from defensive line to outside linebacker, Houston produced 67 tackles, 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.  Houston was also an All-American first-team choice by The NFL Draft Report, the Football Writers Association of America and the Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2010.

If Houston is able to be disciplined and stay out of trouble, he could be the surprise of the Chiefs' linebacking corps in 2011.  With his size, strength, speed and athleticism, Houston will be on Studebaker's heel's for the starting outside linebacker position opposite Tamba Hali.

Studebaker has been mentored under Vrabel for two years.  While Studebaker has had his moments, he has not seen the field enough to provide any idea of how he might perform as a starter.

This is Studebaker’s chance to emerge from Vrabel’s shadow and claim the starting position.

For Houston, the road to being a starter might be a bit tougher.  The NFL lockout has not done Houston or any of the rookies any favors.  

In addition, Houston was the last Chiefs rookie to sign his contract, causing him to arrive at camp late.

Unless Houston has an unbelievable camp, I think the Chiefs will likely start the season with Studebaker as the starter. 

Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel have to feel more comfortable putting the veteran Studebaker on the field to start the season rather than a rookie with only a couple of weeks of NFL experience under his belt.