Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid was the first to find a new job this off-season when he landed on his feet with the Kansas City Chiefs. Much of the early attention has been focused around what Reid can do with the Chiefs’ offense, and more specifically the quarterback position. Each of Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn have failed to establish themselves as starting caliber quarterbacks for the Chiefs in recent years for various reasons. Reid has a long history of success at the quarterback position, but that is not the only staple of his regime in Philadelphia that he will expect to carry to Missouri.
Defensively, Reid always worked with a four-man front. Whether it was with the late, great Jim Johnson, Juan Castillo or Todd Bowels, Reid always ran a 4-3 defense to complement his offense. That defensive alignment contradicts what the Chiefs’ current personnel has played in recent years. Despite their record last season, the Chiefs’ have plenty of players who have excelled in their 3-4 scheme. With the change to a 4-3 front, the Chiefs will be asking certain players to completely change their roles.
In particular, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be asked to put their hands on the ground to convert into defensive linemen. As former defensive ends, both players should comfortably convert to the position, however, they have also both excelled as outside linebackers. Taking Hali and Houston away from their current roles at this level could alter their ability to perform to their full potential. Even though both players have previously played defensive end, that was not at this level of football. Furthermore, both have undergone the transition to play outside linebacker instead of spending that time developing into defensive ends.
Moving the duo to the defensive line will also create gaps at linebacker. Derrick Johnson should seamlessly slide into middle linebacker from inside linebacker position, but Brandon Siler is a free agent and not necessarily a fit at either weakside or strongside linebacker in a 4-3. Even if the Chiefs decide to take someone like Arthur Brown early on in the draft, they will still likely need to add another linebacker from the free agent pool. Any of Philip Wheeler, Brad Jones, Kaluka Maiava, Leroy Hill, Dannell Ellerbe, Thomas Howard or Erin Henderson could be considerations as either stop gap players or long-time starters.
With Glenn Dorsey expected to leave in free agency, the Chiefs are left with Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe and Ropati Pitoitua as their potential defensive tackles. Despite being drafted into the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense, Poe was always a better fit as a penetrating defensive tackle in a 4-3 opposed to a nose tackle in a 3-4. Pairing him with Jackson on the interior of the line should create a good pair, if not an overly dominant one.
Should they want to improve the depth, free agents such as Mike Devito, Justin Bannan, Sammie Hill, Aubrayo Franklin and Kevin Vickerson could be under consideration. However, if Reid, or whoever he appoints to run his defense doesn’t think Poe is ready or doesn’t trust Jackson to be an every-down defensive tackle then he will have other options. Star Lotolui could be an option with the first pick in the draft, while free agents Henry Melton, Richard Seymour, Jason Jones, Terrance Knighton and Randy Starks could all be perceived as starting caliber players.
Even though Hali and Houston would be the starting defensive ends, they would not need to stay on the field for every down as they did in the team’s 3-4 scheme. As outside linebackers they played a specialized position, but as 4-3 defensive ends there are plenty of options readily available to add into the rotation.
The Chiefs won’t be chasing top star defensive ends, but they would be smart to add experienced pass rushers such as Juqua Parker, former Chiefs player Wallace Gilberry, Daryl Tapp or William Hayes all had good seasons last year and are soon to be free agents. Those players don’t carry the reputation of a Paul Kruger or Osi Umenyiora, but would fit the roles the Chiefs would ask of them.
With every defensive starter returning to a relatively young secondary, the Chiefs likely won’t alter the back four unless an attractive proposition comes around at the cornerback position across from Brandon Flowers. For now, the team should be happy with Javier Arenas.
Presuming Andy Reid does move the Chiefs to a 4-3 defense, they will have every opportunity to install a quality defensive unit in the off-season.