Chiefs' defensive issues look like they're resolving themselves

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The two big unresolved issues for the Kansas City Chiefs involve their offense. The Chiefs still need to identify their five starters on the offensive line. The starting offense still hasn't produced a long pass, a year after finishing last in the NFL in such plays.

Things are relatively tranquil for the Chiefs on the other side of the ball. The Chiefs have one key starter, Dontari Poe, out of the lineup after having back surgery last month. The Chiefs haven't indicated when they expect him back, but there have been recent signs it will be sooner rather than later.

The Chiefs will be minus another normal starter, cornerback Sean Smith, for the season's first three regular-season games. He was suspended by the NFL for a violation of its substance abuse policy after pleading guilty in Kansas City to DUI.

The absence of Poe and Smith could certainly become problems for the Chiefs. But they haven't been so far.

The Chiefs have split Poe's duties between Jaye Howard and Mike Catapano. Howard plays on running downs and Catapano comes in to rush the quarterback.

Howard in particular has been effective in training camp and the first two preseason games.

"Jaye has really stepped up and done a really good job of anchoring the middle of the defense," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "We're really happy with the way that's gone. We look forward to when we get Dontari back, whenever he comes back. But right now we think the guys that have gone in there have really taken the challenge on and demonstrated they can play really stout in there, particularly against the run."

Smith has played with the backups since preseason started. His replacement, rookie Marcus Peters, has been one of the stars of training camp. The Chiefs weren't in pads at practice on Tuesday so it wasn't a competitive session, but Peters had three interceptions and dropped what would have been a fourth.

The other starting cornerback, Phillip Gaines, also had two interceptions on Tuesday. The Chiefs have two other cornerbacks who started for them last year, Jamell Fleming and Marcus Cooper, plus another rookie in third-round pick Steven Nelson.

"We're moving in the right direction," Sutton said. "We've rolled a lot of guys through there and looked at different combinations of guys and I think all of them have performed pretty good. I think we feel pretty good about where we are at corner."