When the Kansas City Chiefs parted ways with linebackers coach Gary Gibbs this past offseason, they opted to split the position in two: one coach for inside ‘backers and one coach for outside ‘backers.
Gibbs had held the linebackers coach position since 2009, four years before Andy Reid’s 2013 arrival. Gibbs also had a brief stint as Chiefs defensive coordinator in 2012.
With Gibbs gone, Mark DeLeone was elevated to the inside linebackers coach after three years as Gibbs’ assistant (2015-17), and Mike Smith became the team’s outside linebackers coach after two seasons as assistant defensive line coach (2016-17).
Justin Houston, inarguably the Chiefs best linebacker, spoke about how he favored the change earlier this offseason.
“I think it is great just to have an outside linebackers coach,” Houston said. “There’s so much we get to do now just focusing on ourselves and the little things we need to work on. I think last year, we had a lot going on. You have to coach a lot of guys inside and out. It is hard to do that in the little bit of time you have. Now you have a separate coach, we can just focus on one thing, that’s us.”
Reading a little into Houston’s comments, it sure sounded like a nice way of saying this probably should have happened a long time ago.
Smith explained the new dynamic in greater detail during Chiefs’ media availability last week.
“When you have both of [the positions] in the same room and you’re talking about inside linebackers what are the outside guys doing. Now you’re talking about pass rushes, so in a 3-4 you have to separate them. It’s been a smooth process.”
Smith started his NFL coaching career as an intern with the New York Jets back in 2010. Current Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was on that staff.
The Jets eventually promoted Smith to outside linebackers coach (2011).
“That’s how we did it in New York,” Smith added. “That’s how me and Sutton met each other, he was inside and I was outside. You just get to focus on those guys and you really get to dive in deep especially when you have a lot of stuff that we do, you get to dive into it. But it’s been a good process. I’ve known Mark before so everything’s been good.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid also weighed in on how the split was going last week.
“I think it’s working fine,” Reid said. “That’s a big position to just have one person doing, so we did split it up and it seems to be working fine. They’ve been able to get more individual work, more film study, specific to their positions and they’re completely different positions. The outside position in the 3-4 defense and then the inside linebackers in the 3-4 are completely different spots for them.”
Having two linebackers coaches makes all the sense in the world, and it will be critical for a couple reasons this offseason and eventually the preseason.
- On the inside, the Chiefs are hoping to develop Reggie Ragland and new Chief Anthony Hitchens into a “dynamic duo.” This is likely DeLeone’s primary goal this offseason.
- Under Smith, the Chiefs have altered their previous principle of keeping their outside linebackers locked to one side. They are now open to moving Houston and Dee Ford around, and such a change could use additional attention. The Chiefs getting Houston back to his 2014 form would mean great things for the team as a whole.
- The development of rookie LB Breeland Speaks and second-year LB Tanoh Kpassagnon is critical to the improvement of the defense this season. The Chiefs have also said they think Speaks could play on all three downs. You’d think a coach devoted to accomplishing that helps it make it happen sooner rather than later.