Today Arrowhead Pride combs through what should shape up to become the heart and soul of the Kansas City defense: the linebacking corps.
If the fingerprints of Herman Edwards could be visibly seen anywhere on this team, it's the linebacking corps. A unit that's been a question mark since the day we lost DT, it's probably seen the biggest upgrade of any other position in the young Herm Edwards era.
A position that was once reliant on underachievers and castoffs is now fortified with provens at the starting level, solid support at the backup level, and a comfortable mix of veteran savvy and youthful upside.
Linebacker is the deepest position on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kendrell Bell (6'1", 245 lbs.) - Underachiever? In the wrong system? Average linebacker who the storied Steeler franchise made out to be an accolade-snatching star? All are possible, but they all have the same result: Bell has been an unqualified bust as our starter on the weak side. This fact was not particularly helped by Herm's arrival, as he installed a Cover 2 that requires LBs to be faster, smarter, and better in coverage than Bell is. Fact is, the man hasn't even rushed the QB very well and that's what he was brought here to do. I'd say Herm would be likely to cut him considering all the house cleaning Herm's done, but alas, Peterson himself said they wanted to try a couple more things with Bell to see if they could utilize whatever skills he may have. He was a huge signing for KC, and I don't think they'll let him walk just yet.
Brian Crum (6'2", 233 lbs.) - This undrafted rookie's got some funky dreads and a two-million-dollar smile. But as a TE-converted-to-LB for the Florida Gators, he was only really productive last year during their sterling championship run when he finally earned starting job. Among the many assets this young gentleman brings to the table is his attitude: he's a fiery emotional leader and a great overal character. That leadership and obvious athleticism lead a LB corps to a college title, and while he's clearly a winner, he might be a bit raw. So long story short, this position is too deep for the Chiefs to take a shot on Crum, who might not even fit onto the practice squad. After all, we all know where young, raw LBs with great attitudes end up on this team: we play them exclusively on special teams, and if they never pan out we move them to fullback.
Donnie Edwards (6'2", 224 lbs.) - How perfect is it that Donnie's returning home? Let me count the ways... Donnie Edwards is just what this Chiefs defense needs. Not only will his superior speed, savvy, and coverage abilities make him ten times the Cover 2 linebacker that Bell is/was, he is a magnificent mentor for the rising Derrick Johnson and the rest of the youth that makes up this defense. Since Donnie's in his mid-30s, we can assume he'll start declining over the next three years that we've signed him for, but since he made over 140 tackles last year, you have to wonder if he's even capable of slowing at all, ever. A fan favorite and perhaps the leader that this defense has been looking for, Donnie has shored up the weak side linebacking job and fortified this unit for 2007.
Keyaron Fox (6'3", 235 lbs.) - The only thing Dick Vermeil was worse at than drafting talent during his tenure in Kansas City was actually playing the legitimate talent he somehow did draft. It wasn't until Herm Edwards arrived with his youth-favoring ways that Chiefs fans finally to got to see some of Dick's better picks in action: FB/TE Kris "Bigfoot" Wilson, OT Kevin Sampson, and OLB Key Fox. I may be the only person on the planet high on this guy, but he mustered about 50 tackles as a backup last year, which was almost as good as Bell did starting. Good size, good speed, good in coverage, there really wasn't any reason to have Bell start over Fox towards the end of the season. He signed a one-year tender with the team this offseason but I'd like to see him around for a while longer.
Napoleon Harris (6'3", 253 lbs.) - The wild card. He was the Chiefs' biggest signing this offseason, at $24 million over six years, but while he is easily the best talent we'll have at middle linebacker, we can't be sure what exactly to make of him yet. He's a proven commodity, having started at MLB for the Raiders' Super Bowl team his rookie year, and held down MLB for the Vikings' first-ranked run defense last year. But his numbers are fairly meager, durability is a concern with him, and he's carried the "underachiever" label with him for a few seasons. I attribute his inconsistency to the many different schemes he's had to adjust to over his career, and that a solid 6-year tenure on a Cover 2 defense for which his great speed seems ideal will bring out the best in what he has to offer. If he stays healthy, it's reasonable to expect 100+ tackles, 4+ sacks and a handful of turnovers in 2007. Ask me again in a year.
Nate Harris (6'0", 230 lbs.) - There is a definitive "buzz" around this Nate Harris; the fact that we picked up a kid this athletically gifted as an undrafted rookie makes you think the Chiefs got a steal. Straight out of high school, Nate Harris would have attended the University of Miami and become a part of their storied defense had not an armed robbery charge mucked up the whole deal. Instead, he quickly became a standout at Dodge City Community College before Louisville picked up him. Immediately he became a regular starter and logged impressive statistics. The factors here, obviously: rawness, and character concerns. However, he's been a regular on the second-string D at MLB, so it's entirely possible we see him end up on this team, which currently doesn't have a frontrunner for backup MLB.
David Hicks (6'2", 236 lbs.) - David Hicks is the safe, non-gambling man's rookie. He had your typical college career trajectory (playing backup duty until earning the starting position his senior year, where he logged great numbers), at Grambling University (which has historically been a factory for good-to-great pro prospects). Compared to his fellow undrafted rookies, he's not nearly as raw and won't require a complete tutorial from the defensive coaches to get his head in the NFL. He's a tackling machine (81 tackles last year for Grambling), and he's a winner. It's hard not to like this guy value-wise, but he's probably competing for a practice squad spot, and considering the depth this team has at the position, and how good/popular the other LBs he'll be competing against for the practice squad are, Hicks has an outside chance to be a Chief in 2007.
Derrick Johnson (6'3", 242 lbs.) - Star in the making? How about a star already. Derrick Johnson is a fantastic Cover 2 strong-side linebacker. His incredible speed and solid coverage abilities make him one of the best defenders on our team, if not the most athletically gifted, period. There's hardly a TE in the league that he can't cover, and he's blown up dozens of RBs or FBs that catch the ball out on the flat. Because of the Cover 2's heavy emphasis on coverage, strong-side linebacker is not statistically friendly, nor is it friendly to the spotlight, causing me to believe that DJ is an undiscovered gem that our defense revolves around. Though he was replaced ably by Key Fox when he was out last season, his ability to blanket an entire section of the strong-side elevates what our defense can do. The only question this year is whether he can live up to his promise and make the Pro Bowl.
William Kershaw (6'3", 240 lbs.) - There's been some buzz around Kershaw this offseason, that he might be the leading candidate to back up Napoleon Harris at MLB. But color me skeptical. His size is there, but his speed simply isn't, not for the ground that a Cover 2 MLB has to cover. Kcchiefs.com, whether you choose to believe them or not, has already stated that "he is expected to concentrate his time at outside linebacker." Kershaw actually did see marginal playing time last year against the Jaguars and the Chiefs' exhausting loss to the Colts. That year of experience helps. But how much? Kershaw will be competing for a roster spot, but it's far from guaranteed for him.
Nick Reid (6'3", 234 lbs.) - Oh, does this coaching staff love Nick Reid. Having impressed them with his dominating performance in NFL Europe, Nick Reid may be this year's version of Rich Scanlon: a stud in world football but an empty shirt in the NFL. A standout LB from Kansas University, he actually earned Big 12 DPOY honors in 2005 before the Chiefs picked him up and released him the next year. But in 2007, Reid wreaked all kinds of havoc on NFL Europe: he registered dozens of tackles, he put a few QBs on their back and even picked off a pass or two. I don't know where this is headed, but clearly the guy has a nose for big plays, something the Chiefs have been looking for to change its image. If you straight-up asked me, I'd say Reid's best efforts in Europe are for naught, but he does have a decent shot at making the practice squad.
Rich Scanlon (6'2", 249 lbs.) - Scanlon, oh Scanlon. NFL Europe DPOY in 2005, or as the Europeans called it while Scanlon was kickin' ass with the Berlin Thunder, the "era of terror." An undeniable monster on special teams. Fearless, say the men. Alluring, say the ladies. He's the man you'd hate to cross. He's an agent of destruction. He's the book you can't judge by its cover. He's the book you can't put down. He's the book that's ultimately not a very good book. I'm running low on metaphors here, but I think it's clear that Scanlon's disappointingly unproductive tenure as a Chief will have come to an end by the final cutting date. Read this paragraph as a very cheap eulogy, Rich. You will be missed, as Chiefs fans will now have to select another punching bag for cheap laughs at some poor player's expense.
Depth Chart Prediction
WOLB - Edwards
MLB - Napoleon Harris
SOLB - Johnson
Backups: Fox, Bell, Nate Harris, Kershaw (if we go seven-deep at LB)