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Holding The Keys: Defensive Tackle

Posted Mar 30, 2011

The Chiefs are currently thin in numbers at defensive tackle

From a positional perspective, addressing defensive tackle is the Chiefs most pressing need this off-season. Kansas City has just one pure nose tackle under contract at the moment.

In an effort to increase team speed, selecting skill players in the early rounds of last year’s draft took priority. Seven defensive tackles went off the board through the first two rounds and another 10 were selected in the later rounds. The Chiefs opted to let those players pass for the sake of overhauling a painfully slow roster.

Instead, the Chiefs added depth at nose tackle through other means.

Shaun Smith signed as a then-unheralded free agent (though he would end up playing mostly defensive end) and Anthony Toribio was claimed off waivers after missing out on a roster spot in Green Bay behind DTs B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett.

Last year’s draft strategy, would end up paying immediate dividends.

After one year, the 2010 draft class appears to be on its way towards long-term success. Team speed today isn’t comparable to 2009 and the Chiefs made it through last season with blue collar veterans playing over center.

But this off-season, nose tackle takes higher priority. Both Edwards and Smith are slated for free agency and the Chiefs in-house candidates have limited playing experience.

As of right now, Toribio is the only pure nose tackle under contract. Dion Gales has experience at nose, but is more of a tweener and has bounced back and forth between end and tackle during his two seasons in Kansas City.

While Toribio was on the active roster all of last season, he played only 65 snaps. Gales spent the entire season on the practice squad.

Considering how few snaps were played by reserve tackles, the versatility of Glenn Dorsey easily gets lost when reviewing the defensive line as a whole.

Edwards manned the zero-technique in base sets, but Dorsey rarely left the field and played almost double the snaps of any other lineman. Dorsey aligned in multiple techniques depending on the personnel package, allowing Smith to play at end and Toribio to develop within the system. Despite Dorsey's versatility, dwindling interior numbers makes adding another tackle a priority.

The effort that goes into resigning Edwards is worth watching when free agency opens, because this year’s market doesn’t appear to offer an abundance of options.

San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin, who was franchised last season, will likely command the most interest (and money) of the free agent. Aging veterans, reserves and tackles from 4-3 systems make up the rest of the list. Not surprisingly, most of the league's younger tackles are guarded with tender offers.

The stall of free agency means that teams aren’t cutting players either.

Kansas City improved two positions of need last season after Thomas Jones and Ryan Lilja were handed walking papers from the Jets and Colts, respectively.

The current NFL landscape only makes it more interesting to see how the Chiefs will handle the situation at tackle this April.

NFL Network reported over the weekend that the Chiefs have scheduled or received in-house visits from Baylor’s Phil Taylor and Temple’s Muhammad Wilkinson. Both players appear to be moving up draft boards quickly - maybe too quickly for the liking of Chiefs fans hoping to draft a big body over center.

Rob Rang of CBS Sports paints a picture that could see five defensive tackles drafted within the first 20 picks for the first time since 2001. The rise of the three tackles outside Alabama’s Marcel Dareus and Auburn’s Nick Fairley could create a scramble midway through the first round.

“I've spoken to representatives of teams operating out of the 4-3 and 3-4 that see the next three defensive tackles -- Illinois' Corey Liuget , Baylor's Phil Taylor and Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson - as all potential Top 20 picks,” Rang wrote earlier this week.

Of course, trades are always a possibility as well and the Chiefs sit in a position that has historically seen lots of movement on draft day.

With a deep rookie class, the fogginess of free agency and a shortage of in-house tackles, it won’t be a surprise when the Chiefs address the nose through the draft. Maybe selecting a nose tackle isn’t a question of if, but rather a question of which round?

An interesting set of circumstances hold the keys at nose tackle this off-season.

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