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Film review: Chiefs’ defensive line depth shines in San Francisco

Lead by versatile superstar Chris Jones, the team’s defensive line displayed flashes from many players.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the Kansas City Chiefs’ first preseason matchup against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night, they appeared a little short-handed along the defensive line. Due to short-term injury issues, key contributors like defensive ends Frank Clark, Taco Charlton and Alex Okafor didn’t suit up.

This meant an increased workload for the remaining defensive linemen — and at first glance, these players stepped up, displaying quality depth for defensive line coach Brendan Daly.

Run defense

Generally, the line did a solid job of holding the point of attack on the front side of running plays.

In his first start as a primary defensive end, Chris Jones displayed the quickness and agility to avoid blocks, showing that he will not just be a large target for offensive tackles and tight ends.

Second-year defensive end Mike Danna also was a steady, consistent presence against the run, picking right up where he left off last year.

But it wasn’t all perfect. Despite showing several exciting traits at other moments during the game, play recognition and decision-making occasionally got the best of some of the young defenders.

Despite how impressive second-year defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton continues to look in one-on-one situations — especially as a pass rusher — asking him to hold ground against double teams is still a tall task.

Pass Defense

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wasted no time throwing five and six-man blitzes at the 49ers’ first-round rookie quarterback Trey Lance. In different ways, these were also largely successful for the defensive line.

It was great to see Chris Jones pick right up where he left off, winning quickly from the interior. The team’s new free-agent defensive tackle Jarran Reed also flashed some of the reason why he is now a part of the Chiefs roster, showing pass-rushing productivity between the offensive guards.

One area where the 49ers’ offense found success was with play-action pass concepts. Given San Francisco’s propensity to lean on those plays to generate explosive gains, this came as no surprise.

As the game went on, defensive linemen began doing a better job of recognizing what the offense was doing — leading to smart, high-effort plays like this one from Danna and Wharton.

In obvious passing situations throughout the game, the defensive line did a really solid job of generating quick pressure with at least one player. This is what you want — and expect — from a good, tenacious defensive front.

Defensive end Tim Ward — entering his third Chiefs season after developing on injured reserve and the practice squad over the last two years — excelled with his pass-rushing get-off. If he continues to have preseason performances like Saturday night’s, he will be a tough player to leave off the 53-man roster.

Looking ahead

Depth players on the Chiefs’ defensive line mostly continue to shine when opportunities present themselves. Daly deserves credit for developing many young, gifted players who consistently bring tremendous effort.

If defensive ends Clark, Charlton and Okafor can all come back — helping to boost the edge rush and overall discipline of the group — there is lots of upside among these players. Defensive tackles Derrick Nnadi combines with Reed to form a tremendous set of run stuffers inside. Meanwhile, Jones is on a trajectory that could make him a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

At full strength, the Chiefs’ current defensive line is bigger, stronger, smarter — and perhaps deeper — than it has been in quite some time. Both now and moving forward, attrition will be their biggest opponent.