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3 ways Chris Jones’ holdout can impact the Chiefs’ defense

Kansas City’s best defensive player has yet to report to training camp. What does that mean for the unit?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

There is reason to believe that in 2023, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense could have its best performance since quarterback Patrick Mahomes took over the offense in 2018. Over the last two years, the team has used the draft to load up on young defensive talent — while also adding key veterans. In defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s fifth season, he could have a better-stocked cupboard of playmakers than he’s ever had in Kansas City.

But now, defensive tackle Chris Jones has thrown a wrench into the middle of those plans. Entering the final year of his deal, he is holding out of training camp to improve his leverage in a negotiation for a contract extension. The defense is beginning its preparation for Week 1 without its best player.

We don’t know how long this holdout will last — or how it will end. But we do know the defense won’t be the same without Jones.

Let’s consider three things that could be impacted by his absence from camp:

1. Charles Omenihu’s role

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

When the Chiefs signed former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, they acquired a player who could work in concert with Jones. On normal downs, he could use his length and big body to set the edge as a defensive end — but as a defensive tackle on passing downs, he can be an electric pass rusher. With this duo on the field, opposing offenses would be forced to double-team one of them — leaving the other to eat a guard’s lunch.

So the Chiefs were hoping to continue Omenihu’s development as a true defensive end. But with Jones unavailable, the team may feel the need to train him as a full-time defensive tackle, taking Jones’ place as the three-technique defender (in the B-gap) on normal downs.

Since Omenihu is much lighter than Jones, he could be a weakness against the run while playing on the inside. So if the team needs to replace Jones there on early downs, they should look elsewhere — but there may be nowhere else to turn. To start training camp, the team lined up Daniel Wise in Jones’ place. Last season, the 27-year-old totaled one tackle in 11 games for the Washington Commanders.

2. Pass-rushing continuity

This offseason, there has been a lot of turnover along the defensive front. The only key players remaining from last year’s group are defensive ends George Karlaftis and Mike Danna — and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton, who is currently on the Reserve/PUP list as he rehabs an ACL injury.

Jones’ absence may force the defensive staff to simplify their pass-rushing installs, because the majority of the defensive line’s players are inexperienced. They may not be able to include some of the complex packages that revolve around Jones’ impact — which, in turn, could limit the team’s ability to deploy them as the season begins.

3. Leadership through the dog days of camp

In the same breath, the lack of experience and continuity among the team’s defensive line could be exposed as camp wears on — and the practices get harder. As coaches dig in more — pushing player’s mental and physical limits — it would be nice to have a seven-year veteran available to lead his largely inexperienced teammates.

This is something at which former Kansas City defensive end Frank Clark excelled. While Jones doesn’t have quite the same kind of leadership skills, he does bring an infectious energy to the field. The fun he has (and the swagger he doesn’t mind showing off) both help loosen up his teammates — or even motivate them to step up their games.

Jones’ energy will be missed. It will be hard for anyone in the current group to create it. Inexperienced players will be too locked in on what they’re supposed to do — which leaves Danna, who is entering his fourth NFL season. While Danna’s play should allow him to lead by example, he won’t be the energy catalyst that Jones can be.

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