ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Training camp has revealed linebacker to be the deepest position on the Kansas City Chiefs' roster. That isn’t a surprise, not with Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson coming off Pro Bowl seasons and the Chiefs having selected Dee Ford in the first round of this year’s draft.
This year’s camp has also revealed the development of two younger linebackers, James-Michael Johnson and Josh Martin. The Chiefs have given both a long look in passing situations and have occasionally revealed defensive packages that feature all six of these linebackers.
"He’s just using the pieces like it’s chess," Hali said of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. "He’s putting all his best players out there, allowing them to do what they do best. We have about five guys, six guys that can rush the passer, so he puts us out there. We call it the dog front, a bunch of dogs going after (the quarterback) and barking, pretty much."
Led by Houston, Hali, Johnson and nose tackle Dontari Poe, the Chiefs last season were on a pace to set a league-record for sacks through the first half of the season. Their rush tailed off significantly over the season’s second half and the overall play of their defense collapsed along with it.
Though the Chiefs don’t necessarily need to set a league record for sacks, they will need a consistently productive pass rush to get their defense back to respectability. While the Chiefs have some skilled players in their front seven, they have patched together a secondary that includes waiver claims Ron Parker and Marcus Cooper among their top three cornerbacks.
So there’s much riding on the dog front, or however the Chiefs decide to go after the opposing quarterback. If all they do is bark, it could be another long season for the Chiefs and their defense.
They need these dogs to bite, too.
"This is a real good group we have," Hali said. "We have five, six guys that can be in the game at the same time. They can get after the quarterback. I’ve never been around that. Not even in college and not in the league. That’s pretty awesome to have a bunch of guys that you don’t have to count on one guy. There are a couple other guys that can make plays, too. That’s kind of good for our entire defense and team."