Twos and Threes line the Chiefs roster. Defensively, their progression is vital.
Todd Haley extended a somewhat surprising challenge to one of his most promising young players earlier this week. Second-year LB Jovan Belcher has been one of the early success stories of Haley’s tenure as the Chiefs head coach.
Belcher came out of nowhere last year to make the Chiefs 53-man roster out of training camp. By Week Three, the former University of Maine Black Bear moved beyond just a special teams performer and found his way into the defensive rotation in sub-package sets.
In present day, Belcher is giving the eye in the sky a long look running with the first-team defense in OTAs. A permanent home in the starting lineup for 2010 wouldn’t exactly qualify as a surprise to anyone at this point.
His story has been great one, but apparently the “atta-boys” are over for Belcher. His head coach is ready to see more.
“Now that’s behind him,” Haley said of Belcher. “That feel-good story is over.”
Don’t misconstrue Haley’s words as being down on Belcher. The way that the Chiefs used Belcher throughout the 2009 season and now into the 2010 off-season would point the opposite direction. Instead, take Haley’s call to Belcher as a strong message to a large group of players.
“Those second-year, third-year guys have to develop,” Haley said. “Belcher falls in that pack, and it’s a big pack, and I mean that and I’ve said it to him. That was a nice story but we won four games and that’s not what our expectations are and those guys have to develop and he’s one of them.”
Seriously, Haley’s not kidding here; particularly when it comes to the defensive side of the football. Defensively, Kansas City didn’t add many new faces in free agency and the unit is relying on a hefty helping of second and third-year players to help lead the defensive rookie class. In the process, they’ll also be expected make their own strides in the process.
There are 13 second or third-year players (including Belcher) on the defensive side of the football and many are competing for positions that are vital to seeing marked improvement out of the 2010 Chiefs defense.
This is “The Big Pack”…
Glenn Dorsey (third-year player) – “Putt” took considerable steps forward in his second season, but people are pushing for more. Despite conditioning issues at the beginning of training camp, Dorsey rarely left the field when healthy. This year he’s already in top shape and looks poised for more progression. The Chiefs are banking on it.
Tyson Jackson (second-year player) –Jackson has a lot of eyes on him. Year two is expected to be, and should be, a season of considerable progress. His development will go a long way in determining how successful Kansas City defends the run.
Wallace Gilberry (third-year player) – Pleasant surprises are hard to find during a four-win season, but Gilberry was one of them. Can he convince the coaching staff that he can handle more than 15-20 snaps per game? If he can, the defense will have much more flexibility across the front line.
Alex Magee (second-year player) – Like Jackson, Magee now has one year under his belt. He played sparingly in 2009, but appeared to be making progress over the last few games of the season. He’s also one of the more versatile players in the position group. You’d have to think the coaching staff would like get him more involved in the defensive game plan for 2010. It’s up to him to take that step.
David Herron (third-year player) – Herron came in at mid-season and filled the roll that Monty Beisel left vacant when he was released at mid-season. Herron survived the majority of 2009 as a fringe player and even weathered an injury that kept him inactive for a few weeks. He had staying power with his special teams play a year ago, and will likely fight for that role once more.
Andy Studebaker – He had the breakout game vs. Pittsburgh, but is he ready for a more consistent defensive role? Right now it appears that Mike Vrabel is still the guy. The question becomes whether or not Studebaker is Vrabel’s long-term apprentice. Almost everyone is rooting for “Studie.”
Pierre Walters (second-year player) – An original member of Belcher’s “wolf pack,” Walters made the team as an undrafted linebacking project. He had a “redshirt” season to prepare for the opportunity that awaits him this summer. Walters is loaded with NFL measurables, but he’ll also have to fend off a pair of rookies nipping at his heels (Cameron Sheffield and Jason Cole).
Brandon Carr – Haley had a lot of good things to say about Carr last week. His teammate, Brandon Flowers, is also excited in what he sees from the “other Brandon.” Carr said himself that he was somewhat disappointed in his up-and-down 2009 season, but he’s also battle tested starting all 32 games of his career. He’s the only 2008 draft pick to have done so. Carr has both the tools and the experience; it’s a big year for him.
Brandon Flowers – Is Kansas City’s promising young cornerback ready to take the step from one of the best in the AFC West to one of the league’s elite?
Maurice Leggett (third-year player) – Leggett’s versatility in the defensive backfield is rivaled by few and he’s also a major special teams factor. Right now, it appears that he’s the first corner off the bench behind Carr and Flowers, but the competition push surrounding him is fierce. He could also factor into a reserve roll at safety. He’ll be in the mix competing for a very vital role in this defense.
DaJuan Morgan (third-year player) – The Chiefs have played musical chairs with the safeties this spring, and Morgan is just as much part of the mix as anyone. The position really is up for grabs and Morgan has been the groups best, at times, during his first two professional seasons. Can he turn those flashes into something more consistent?
Donald Washington (second-year player) – He’s moved from cornerback to safety, but a new position doesn’t mean that expectations will lighten. He was at a disadvantage from the start as a rookie with NCAA/NFL rules keeping him out of the off-season program until June. Athleticism has never been a question with this guy. Will a full off-season of prep-work get him on the field more often?