The Chiefs' defensive front seven was arguably the team's weakest unit in 2009, finishing second-to-last in the league in both run defense and quarterback sack percentage. Yet when Kansas City was addressing its needs this offseason, upgrading the backfield and offensive line, it opted to leave the front seven alone. To this point, that move has not paid off.
During training camp and the early part of the preseason, the Chiefs' defensive linemen and linebackers have played very poorly, not showing any improvement following their '09 flop. In the exhibition opener, the first unit allowed 29 yards on four carries to Falcons RB Michael Turner, and Atlanta QBs were not sacked once. It has been an inauspicious start for a "D" expected to be better under the tutelage of coordinator Romeo Crennel.
From what we hear, DE Tyson Jackson has been one of the players struggling mightily in August. Contributing little as a rookie after being drafted third overall, the LSU product has been getting knocked off the line consistently in practice, and coaches are still working with him on technique issues that he should have mastered as he enters Year Two. The Chiefs have had to move Shaun Smith, signed in the offseason to be a backup nose tackle, to D-end in order to have a veteran reserve if Jackson can't get the job done. If Jackson doesn't make leaps and bounds this season, the "bust" label will be difficult for him to shake.
Although K.C. doesn't have much depth among the front seven, it's possible that the club could makes some lineup changes if things don't progress by Week One. One candidate to join the starters is OLB Andy Studebaker, who has had a productive camp and has been getting reps with the first unit. With Mike Vrabel getting older and less effective, the 24-year-old Studebaker is likely to take some of his snaps — and maybe even his starting spot — in 2010.
We're also told that the odds are very good that the Chiefs will look long and hard at cutdown time to add a player at both D-line and linebacker to bolster the group. GM Scott Pioli showed last season that he has a penchant for shuffling guys on and off the roster leading up to the season, and he may be forced to do so again if the front seven continues to falter.
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