by John Unrein
The campus of Missouri Western University in Saint Joseph, Missouri is the setting for the Kansas City Chiefs as they open training camp. National Football League MVP Patrick Mahomes garners much attention from onlookers as his athleticism and arm talent is on display. A second glance at the practice field reveals something significant as well. The team has noteworthy talent and depth along the defensive line.
Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas had arguably the quickest defensive first step in Chiefs history. One might also argue league history for that matter. That mantle may be under duress from newcomer Frank Clark.
The fifth-year defensive end out of the University of Michigan is a blur on the edge of the Chiefs defense. The proverbial sky may indeed be the limit for Clark as he looks to improve on his 13-sack season of 2018. Clark is fresh off his newly signed five-year, $104 million contract as well as recently being ranked 85th by his peers on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2019.
Clark is not alone in his first step prowess out of his stance. Fellow defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon along with defensive tackles Chris Jones and rookie third round pick Khalen Saunders are among those who limit the distance between themselves and an offensive lineman in a heartbeat. It’s impressive to the naked eye the get off possessed by young members of the Chiefs defensive line.
Former Chiefs Offensive Lineman and current television football analyst Rich Baldinger has also been impressed by what he’s seen at camp from the defensive line. Baldinger watched pass rush drills and the nine on seven run emphasis period with an eagle eye.
“I wanted to see the young man Saunders, number 99 and how he’s going to work on the inside. Chris Jones looks to be in tremendous shape. His get off on the ball is something. Frank Clark on the outside is quick as well. With Chris Jones and Frank Clark on one side of the defensive line, that’s going to be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Their speed and ability to change direction so quickly is what you need up front,” Baldinger said.
“The speed of the game continues to grow. It covers the whole field now. The ball can be placed anywhere on the field with the accuracy of the quarterbacks and their ability to deliver the football. The game has become a marathon on the field because you are running from sideline to sideline.”
How much depth the Chiefs retain along their defensive line remains to be seen. It’s not uncommon for 4-3 defenses in the National Football League to retain eight to ten linemen on their 53-man roster. The idea being you want to have a couple of waves you send at an offensive line that are consistently fresh throughout the game.
New Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly has employed a rotational strategy during training camp within team and group periods. It’s paying dividends as the defense has won more than their fair share of pass rush matchups and runs defended. Daly has also been assigned the title of Run Game Coordinator by Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Something earned during Daly’s tenure with the New England Patriots as their defensive line coach since 2014 prior to joining the Chiefs.
It could be Daly’s resume as a recent Super Bowl champion, or it could be his ability to teach and communicate effectively, either way the Chiefs defensive line is all ears when he speaks. Daly has focused on tackling wrap, stance get off, hand placement, and clearing your hips when defeating a block during camp. Players have responded with an attentive and enthusiastic demeanor as they go through their work. Confidence has been on display for the defensive line during camp thus far.
Depth can be defined in a variety of ways. The “quantity of quality” is among the examples mentioned by online dictionaries for depth. The Chiefs are currently sporting as much depth as they’ve ever had along their defensive line. That will be on display as the preseason begins when the Chiefs host the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead on Saturday, August 10th.
Current defensive lineman on the Kansas City Chiefs roster:
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the Chiefs offense during team scrimmage on July 30th. Photo credit: Valley News staff
Coach Brendan Daly encourages Defensive End Alex Okafor with tackling wrap on the sled. Photo credit: Valley News staff