Chiefs counting on experienced defense
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP)
The Kansas City Chiefs have the personnel to put together a top-notch NFL defense.
Even better for the Chiefs, many of the players have experience at key positions.
Of the 11 projected starters, eight have spent multiple seasons with the Chiefs.
The players won't shy away from the expectations of being part of a defense prepared to carry Kansas City back to the postseason.
''We have confidence,'' Chiefs defensive end Glenn Dorsey said. ''We have a lot of guys coming back, a lot of guys got healthy. We want to build on what we did last year. We feel like we had the right guys in the right places.''
Eight of those players account for the majority of the experience: linebacker Tamba Hali (95 starts), linebacker Derrick Johnson (93), defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey (61), cornerback Brandon Flowers (59), linebacker Jovan Belcher (34), defensive lineman Tyson Jackson (31), safety Kendrick Lewis (26) and safety Eric Berry (26).
Berry's torn ACL cost him the final 15 games of 2011.
That gives Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel one of the most experienced units in the league, especially in terms of repetitions in his 3-4 defense.
Crennel said he feels fortunate to bring the core back and knows not many teams have that luxury in today's era of free agency.
The Chiefs likely have a small window to keep the group together.
''They're young, and they haven't reached that point where they can move on yet,'' Crennel said. ''I think that's the case with some of them, but then in other cases, like Tamba Hali and Derrick, we were able to retain those guys and able to keep them here because we wanted them here.''
Even the less experienced players may be able to contribute.
Justin Houston, a second-year outside linebacker, ended up starting 10 games as a rookie last season. Kansas City lists Anthony Toribio as the starting defensive tackle, but Dontari Poe, the Chiefs' top draft pick, could end up with that spot by the end of camp. Neither has started an NFL game.
The other piece of the starting 11 comes to Kansas City via Oakland in free agency and has 53 career starts.
''It's just like when Carr was over there,'' Flowers said. ''There's not a No. 1 and No. 2 corner out here. We're just two No. 1s, just great corners on the same squad.''
Kansas City ranked 11th in total defense last season.
The Chiefs limited opponents at times despite giving up 89 points in their first two games. They finished the season allowing just more than 21 points per game, and that includes giving up 31 or more in five of their nine losses.
In victory, the Chiefs yielded 11.6 points per game with help from a shutout against Oakland and limiting Green Bay - the league's top scoring offense - to just 14 in a December victory.
Kansas City ended up sixth against the pass, but 26th against the run.
The confidence in matching or bettering those numbers comes from familiarity. The core of this group led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010 after enduring three straight losing seasons from 2007-2009.
''We grew up. A lot of us were really, really young together, and we've been through a lot of things,'' reserve outside linebacker Andy Studebaker said.
''We've been through some good times; we've been through some really hard times, and we've all been through it together.
''The history that we have together ... and the positive attitudes that we're bringing every day, I think our team is really gelling together nicely.''
The defensive line, where Dorsey has developed into a leader, will still face questions because of struggles against the run. Questions of inconsistency and limited impact plays continue to haunt Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick.
Then there's Poe, the 11th pick in this year's draft.
He could face pressure after he jumped up the draft boards due to impressive workouts at the scouting combine.
A jump in production against the run could provide the necessary boost for Kansas City's defense to reach the league's upper echelon.
''Our front has big expectations no matter what, whether it's Tyson or me myself,'' Dorsey said. ''We're going to need every position, and it ain't just the nose guard.''