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On The Edge

Posted Sep 30, 2010

Chiefs have fought through depth issues by playing team football

Todd Haley has been very forthright with his feelings regarding the Chiefs depth, or lack thereof. To summarize, he’s not comfortable with it.

 “Our margin of error from a depth standpoint is on the side of worrying about every little injury that occurs,” Haley said.

In the eyes of a head coach, there’s never enough depth. But Haley’s nervousness involving the breadth of the Chiefs roster is legitimate. Though the Chiefs have made dramatic improvements to their roster over the past 19 months, there is still plenty of building left to do. For that reason alone, the bye week comes at the perfect time.

Since Ryan O’Callaghan, a projected starter, went down with a groin injury in practice on August 24th, the Chiefs have entered their first three games with just two active tackles. Barry Richardson has taken O’Callaghan’s place for the time-being, while Branden Albert mans the left edge. Past those two, there isn’t a player on the active roster with a “T” next to their name.

If Albert or Richardson were to go down in mid-game with some type of injury, the Chiefs would have to shift one of their starting guards over to tackle, or possibly even give C Rudy Niswanger the call.

“I am still scared to death on a daily basis because we are dangerously thin in certain areas where we have been able to dodge bullets,” Haley said.

Depth along the offensive edge was one of the bigger questions facing the Chiefs prior to training camp. When Ikechuku Ndukwe, Colin Brown and Tyler Eastman were all released this preseason, the Chiefs pledged their allegiance to Richardson as the primary backup for both tackle spots. When O’Callaghan went down, Richardson moved up and the Chiefs chose not to add a player for the sole purpose of filling-in the roster space behind him.

Though a risky move from a numbers standpoint, the Chiefs have lived through three games of extreme thinness at tackle. Actually, the Chiefs haven’t just lived, they’ve thrived.

Kansas City owns the league’s top-ranked rushing offense and has only seen QB Matt Cassel taken down twice over these first three weeks. Through three starts last year, Cassel had already hit the floor nine times.

Despite losing a starter, the o-line hasn’t skipped a beat. Their success is a testament not only to the play of Richardson, but to the veteran leadership of the group as a whole.

“It is like anybody else on that offense, we found a way to win three out of this first quarter and (Barry) is a big part of that,” Haley said. “I am happy. He is a young guy that we are trying to develop and he got an opportunity to get in there. I think I talked about him some in camp about feeling like he was making progress, and that his time would come, and there would be an opportunity for him to show some of that progress.”

 

This has been that opportunity.

Richardson has definitely shown progress, but the Chiefs still want O’Callaghan back. Whether or not O’Callaghan returns to the field as a starter is something that will figure itself out in practices and the film room. For now, the Chiefs are just grateful that they’ve been able to live on the numerical edge, without falling over.

“People have asked me about the bye week and ‘boy, you were hot,’ rolling and those things,” Haley said. “I don’t buy it. I could not be happier with the bye week coming when it did because we need it, we need everybody and we need to try to get anybody that hasn’t been out there out there because we are dangerously thin at certain spots that we have been able to avoid a catastrophe.”

Haley often talks about needing production from the entire roster in order for the team to be successful. Thus far, that’s exactly how the Chiefs are getting it done.

Shaun Smith is another example. He has been another player who, like Richardson, has stepped up for the Chiefs in a time of need. Smith’s taken the brunt of snaps at left defensive end while Tyson Jackson has been out of action and he’s done so while playing at a high level.

With Jackson out, the Chiefs only had three defensive ends active for play last Sunday. It’s been the increased workload taken on by Smith and Wallace Gilberry that has helped to keep the Chiefs defense churning at full speed. Alex Magee also chipped in with nearly 20 plays in Cleveland when Jackson was first sidelined.

Again, the Chiefs did not make a roster move when Jackson went down; they simply increased the roll of their reserves. These are examples of everyone on the roster contributing to the early-season success of the Chiefs.

Right now, the Chiefs are the talk of the NFL. National debate has waged as to whether or not they are “legit.” Almost every national football pundit has them ranked as the most surprising team to start the season.

If most people didn’t expect the Chiefs to be 3-0 at this point, what does it say when they’ve done so without a starting defensive end and tackle?

What it tells me is that the Chiefs are churning out team victories. When one man falls, another has been ready to step up.

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