DJ's "Development"

Kcchiefs.com posted a fairly underwhelming interview with Derrick Johnson yesterday. I don't claim to be an expert in how to extract information from professional athletes, but as we saw on Hard Knocks last year, athletes are coached to be cordial and avoidant. So I would do everything I can to knock them off their guard, to get them to reveal actual nuggets of information rather than that candy-coated crap they're always feeding us.

It's an unofficial job of mine to read this crap, and it doesn't get any easier when the questions line up like this:

Q: How’s it going for you now that your in your third week of OTAs and you start mini- camp on Friday?

Q. What is like to not only have Gunther as your defensive coordinator, but also your linebackers coach?

Q: Sometimes you start out real strong then things trail off. Is this the year for you?

Q: That word consistency seems to be that word because Brodie (Croyle) used it as well about his play and that everybody has to consistent?

THAT LAST ITEM ISN'T EVEN A QUESTION. But it's got a question mark nonetheless.

It's been several years now since we've drafted Derrick Johnson, and there's not a lot I can tell you about his tenure that you don't already know. His play has alternated between brilliant and ordinary. The sky is blue.

But the continual talk about Derrick Johnson during his time as a Chief has been that he's "developing." This was an adjective I'd hoped we'd stop using after his second year, but coming into his fourth year, we're still hearing it. And oddly enough, it's appropriate. The guy is still developing, because even after 2007, easily his best to date, there is still a lot of things this guy can do.

Ever since his rookie year ended, I've been the guy saying "DJ's going to explode!!!1 this year" every single offseason, only to be proven wrong.

Well this year, he truly is going to explode. And I'm not just saying that to say it. I'm saying it because I truly believe, and will argue thusly, that Derrick Johnson will be a Pro Bowl linebacker in 2008. Quote it, buy it, print it. I'll offer three gigantic reasons why.

The first reason is that there is a lot of buzz out right now that DJ is finally making the move from strongside to weakside linebacker. This a move that is significant not only in the statistics he's going to accumulate, but in his ability to impact games. The strongside linebacker is typically responsible for more pass coverage and less freedom to roam than the weakside is -- largely to account for the tight end. The strongside linebacker typically rushes the backfield where the most blockers are, and has to attack the QB in his line of vision.

DJ has been nearly elite in pass coverage, and locked down on tight ends all year -- few tight ends had big games on the Chiefs. But DJ's specialty is getting behind the line of scrimmage and getting to the QB. The weakside allows DJ to do it without entering the QB's line of vision, and it doesn't weigh him down with coverage assignments nearly as much as the strongside would. This allows DJ to create more havoc.

The second reason DJ will make the Pro Bowl is more negative for the Chiefs as a team: he is surrounded with the weakest linebacker talent that he's seen in his years as a Chief (as hard as we strive on AP for continuity, this is a point where Chris and I disagree). Donnie Edwards is another year older at a position that doesn't age particularly well, and Donnie may be playing at middle linebacker anyway to cover for Napoleon Harris, who's performance has been so underwhelming, offenses are apparently gameplanning to attack him. DeMorrio Williams is a question mark more than anything, and from there it's a cluster of UDFAs and castoffs, all of them promising but none of them proven.

It's an adage that's seen across all levels of football: surround a linebacker with better and better players, and his numbers and the sheer amount of plays he can make will decrease. If you surround a linebacker with elite talent, there's less Superman plays he has to make to keep his team competitive. What you're seeing in 2008 is a weak lineup that backs up a defensive line that's riddled with questions itself, and DJ will be provided every opportunity to statistically erupt.

The third and last reason that DJ will be a Pro Bowler in 2008 is that he's already played like one last year. I believe that DJ was a Top 5 strongside linebacker last year. But every OLB that made the AFC Pro Bowl squad came from a 3-4 defense, which provides their OLBs to rush the QB with abandon and put up huge numbers.

So with all of the above reasons, a little friendly exposure from the media, and some luck, I fearlessly predict that DJ will become the first Chiefs linebacker to make the Pro Bowl since our own patron saint, Derrick Thomas.

Who's with me?

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