The Chiefs Have a Plethora of Linebackers (Fourteen to be Exact)

Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson works the blocking sled during practice Monday at the team's workout facility. RICH SUGG/The Kansas City Star (via

And before we start, the movie scene that I always think of when I hear the word "plethora":

Jefe: I have put many beautiful pinatas in the storeroom, each of them filled with little suprises.
El Guapo: Many pinatas?
Jefe: Oh yes, many!
El Guapo: Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?
Jefe: A what?
El Guapo: A *plethora*.
Jefe: Oh yes, you have a plethora.
El Guapo: Jefe, what is a plethora?
Jefe: Why, El Guapo?
El Guapo: Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has *no idea* what it means to have a plethora.
Jefe: Forgive me, El Guapo. I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

Carrying on....

On a simple level, a switch from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 defense is going to require more linebackers on your team, if only because you now have four guys standing up behind the defensive line instead of three. Unfortunately, it's a little more complicated than that. The Chiefs are trying to figure exactly who fits where during these OTAs.

Let's review our linebacker situation this morning to see exactly what we've got going on.



Where Did They Come From?

The Kansas City Chiefs currently have fourteen linebackers on their active roster. Of those fourteen linebackers, three were listed as linebackers on the roster during the 2008 season:

The Chiefs added three more linebackers as college undrafted free agents in the weeks following the 2009 NFL draft:

And the team added five more linebackers this off season through free agency and one trade:

Where did the next three linebackers come from? Well, as Kent Babb noted today (Welcome back by the way Kent), former defensive linemen Turk McBride, Tamba Hali and Andy Studebaker are now listed as linebackers on the active roster. We've known about a possible (probable) switch by these guys to the linebacker position but recently it's become official.

Hali at least played linebacker in college. McBride said that, other than a handful of situations, he hasn’t played enough of the position at any level to claim any real experience. Regardless, that’s his position now, and he knows that coaches won’t wait while he adjusts to a learning curve.

So the Chiefs bring in eight guys this off season that are listed as linebackers (those UDFAs are almost assuredly not competing for a starting spot; just special teams) and then convert three more current d-linemen to the same position.

Think that linebacker is an important position in the 3-4? Important enough to switch three players' positions? Todd Haley does.

"Well, it’s such a big change for a couple of those guys. I don’t think you can judge them too quick on anything that they’re doing. But, there’s nobody that we look at and say, ‘no chance,’ so far to this point. The dropping and those guys that have been defensive ends that are now stand-up and dropping and doing those things, that’s a big change for them. But, again, I think we’re seeing progress every day and that’s good."

The conversion from defensive line to linebacker for these guys appears to be permanent, judging by Turk McBride's comments:

"Definitely right now," McBride said, "I can’t say I’m a good linebacker. But the more repetitions I take, I think I should do well at it. I tell myself: You have to start thinking like a linebacker. I can’t think like a defensive lineman anymore.

Derrick Johnson's Role

Where does 2005 first round pick Derrick Johnson fit in all of this? As DJ himself noted a couple of weeks ago on the Red Zone podcast, he's going to be playing inside linebacker in the Chiefs' new 3-4 defense. Zach Thomas says that is the best position for DJ:

"This is going to be his best scheme," Thomas said. "It’s definitely weakside linebacker-friendly. It can exploit the talent that he has. Everybody knows how talented and fast he is. If he gets this down where he’s not thinking, just rolling around and just having fun and he knows what to do, he’ll be a great player in this scheme."

Todd Haley chimed in on DJ yesterday:

"I’m not going to get in to where he was drafted because that doesn’t really matter to me now. What matters to me is that I’ve got guys that can help us win and I would say the position he’s playing gives him a chance to excel. Derrick’s been following Zach around and you can see that there’s some chemistry building between that group in general. I like the way that he’s worked this off-season. He’s been a consistent guy, always here, always working, up in the room studying and trying to get better. I think he has a chance to get better this year."

It's a do or die year for Derrick Johnson. Then again, I thought last year was too...

Who is Playing Where?

New faces. New positions. Where do they all fit in? In the 4-3 we called the linebackers nicknames, based on position, from weakside to strong side "WILL, MIKE, SAM" (for strong, middle, weak).  But in the 3-4 they are named (in the same order weak to strong) WILL, MIKE, TED, and SAM. We haven't gotten much info on who's playing where

As Kent Babb noted, yesterday during OTAs, the first team linebackers lined up with Tamba Hali and Monty Beisel lined up on the outside and Zach Thomas and Derrick Johnson playing inside. Once Mike Vrabel comes to camp though, Beisel will likely be relegated to the second team and Vrabel will take his place on the outside.

That leaves Turk McBride, Corey Mays, Darrell Robertson and Demorrio Williams as the possible backups to the starting crew. Belcher, Walters, Smith and Dacus are likely the guys who are more concerned with standing out on special teams as their chance to make the Chiefs' roster.

More 3-4 Reading

One place I have to recommend for clear analysis on the 3-4 defensive is hoosierteacher's MHR University posts on the topic. I highly recommend you check some of those stories out. TheQ also had a FanPost last month that started a great conversation about the depth chart.

There's really a lot of info I left out here because this could be just a massive post. Chime in with your thoughts below.

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