ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Chris Jones was standing on the sideline, on the cusp of returning from arthroscopic knee surgery, and watched as Chiefs teammate Allen Bailey dominated the line against San Francisco.
“Oh beast! Did you see that?” the gregarious Jones said a few days later, when asked about Bailey’s performance from Friday night’s preseason opener. “Split the double team, make the TFL. I went up to him and said: ‘Allen Bailey the Hulk is back! The Hulk is back in business, baby!'”
That’s good news for the Chiefs.
Kansas City struggled mightily to stop the run last season, never more so than in a playoff loss to the Steelers. LeVeon Bell’s darting, start-and-stopping style not only drove the Chiefs crazy to the tune of 170 yards rushing, it was a big reason their season ended in an 18-16 defeat.
Bailey was standing where Jones was Friday night for that game, placed on injured reserve a couple months earlier with an injured shoulder. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound defensive lineman had become an integral part of their run-stopping defensive front, parlaying a breakout 2015 campaign into a four-year, $25 million contract that included $15 million guaranteed.
Yet the Chiefs’ inability to stop the run was much bigger than one player. It was a yearlong issue that they hope they’ve rectified with a bunch of maneuvers in the offseason.
Bailey’s return to health was a good start. Then the Chiefs let massive defensive tackle Dontari Poe sign elsewhere in free agency, giving them precious salary cap space to spend elsewhere.
Some of it went to Bennie Logan, who signed an $8 million deal for this season. Some of it went to Roy Miller, who arrived early in training camp to provide some depth. And some of it went to paying out the rookie contract of second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon, a raw but athletic 6-foot-7, 290-pound pass rusher whom the Chiefs plucked out of lower-level Villanova.
Logan, in particular, has been a crucial signing, bringing a veteran presence to the defensive line.
“He’s a pro. He’s highly competitive. I think he’s real physical,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He plays with that grit that you need to have to play defense with.”
But it’s not just the newcomers upon whom the Chiefs will rely.
Bailey is back from his shoulder injury, and Jones wasn’t the only one who noticed him making plays against the 49ers. Also back is Rakeem Nunez-Roches, a former sixth-round draft pick who was pressed into service when Bailey got hurt and wound up starting five games.
Nacho, as his teammates call him, was singled out by coach Andy Reid for his performance against the 49ers. He made nearly as many plays as Bailey, even if they weren’t as flashy, and overcame a penalty on one of the special teams units to remain in Reid’s good graces.
“He’s somebody I wanted to keep an eye on,” Reid said. “He’s put on some weight, which you see with guys going in — when they’re in the league for a couple years, they figure out what their prime weight is. He put on some real good weight and he’s had a good camp, and it carried over to the game.”
Nunez-Roches said he gained about 30 pounds, mostly in muscle, and is playing at 310 pounds.
“There was a lot of things I could do off the ball being lighter. I was always fast and agile and explosive, but anytime I was hit in my hip, I would go flying,” he said. “So I was like, ‘If I just add a little more in the lower half, I will be OK.’ Offseason, I emphasized in that area and gained a good amount of weight. I started to run with it, condition with it and see how I could move with it.”
So far, the results have been good.
That goes for the Chiefs’ ability to plug up the run, too. They stuffed the 49ers’ Carlos Hyde on his two carries when the starters were in the game, a good sign they’re headed in the right direction.
NOTES: CB JR Nelson missed practice Tuesday with a heel injury. … LB Derrick Johnson was back at practice after getting a planned day off Monday. Johnson played in the preseason opener after rupturing his Achilles tendon last December.