Chiefs sign ex-Brown Nate Orchard to lift ailing OLB corps
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nate Orchard has gone from a highly drafted pick of the Cleveland Browns to a featured star on HBO’s documentary series “Hard Knocks” to the couch as an unemployed linebacker in the NFL.
Now, he’s suiting up for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Maybe even the Super Bowl favorites.
Orchard signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on Wednesday to shore up a pass rush besieged by injuries. Justin Houston could miss several weeks after hurting his hamstring in last Sunday’s win over Jacksonville, while Dee Ford and Tanoh Kpassagnon have been dealing with nagging injuries.
“It was a nice time to be with my family,” Orchard said while standing in a mostly empty Chiefs locker room Wednesday, “but I’m very fortunate to be here with the record they have.”
The Chiefs (5-0) have become the trendy pick to win the AFC after routing the Jaguars last week, and they can validate those hopes with a win Sunday in New England. But winning on the road against Tom Brady and Co. became a lot tougher after the Kansas City defense sustained several injuries last week.
Along with their ailing linebackers, the Chiefs had to put right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on the disabled list with a broken bone in his leg and safety Armani Watts on the IR with a core muscle injury.
The Chiefs signed Frank Zombo, who had spent the past five seasons with Kansas City, when they made those roster moves Tuesday. They added Orchard to further bolster their depth.
“Nate had a real good college career. He played for a good friend of mine at Utah,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Utes coach Kyle Whittingham. “(Orchard) knows the system, he’s familiar with it, then he’s a good player. A very hard worker. And he’s smart.”
The secondary is in a similar shambles.
Strong safety Eric Berry remains sidelined with a heel injury that was supposed to keep him out a short period, but has instead sidelined him since early in camp. Daniel Sorensen remains on IR with his broken leg, though he could return in the next few weeks, and Watts has joined him on the list.
Their backup, Eric Murray, was held out of practice Wednesday with a lower-leg injury.
The Chiefs thought Watts had merely sustained a groin injury against the Jaguars, but trainer Rick Burkholder said an MRI revealed more damage. Watts was headed to Philadelphia for core muscle surgery Thursday, though he should be ready for the start of practices next season.
The fact that Chiefs general manager Brett Veach chose to add pass rushers in Orchard and Zombo and not an extra safety means they likely believe Berry and Sorensen will be able to help soon.
Jordan Lucas, who arrived in a trade with Miami just before the season, picked off his first career pass after entering the game against Jacksonville. He’s in line to get more snaps alongside Ron Parker, and journeyman safety Josh Shaw could factor into the mix.
“It’s a collective. This defense is no single guy out there being dominant,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “It’s a collective whole. Everyone making plays, that’s what we focus on.”
That goes for all levels of the defense, including outside linebacker, where Houston’s injury and the uncertain status of Kpassagnon could mean a crucial opportunity for Breeland Speaks.
The Chiefs’ second-round pick has been active for all five games, but he has mostly been used on special teams and to give the starters a breather. Now, the former Ole Miss star could be charged with putting some pressure on Brady and covering the Patriots’ pass-catching running backs.
“I look for Breeland to keep progressing all around,” Jones said. “He’s got a veteran in Justin Houston in the room. Dee’s in the room. Those guys he can learn from.”
As battered as the defense is right now, he’d better learn in a hurry.
NOTES: Burkholder said Duvernay-Tardif’s injury was also more severe than first believed in that the offensive lineman tore ligaments in the ankle along with breaking his fibula. Duvernay-Tardif is scheduled to have surgery Monday in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “We’ll know more after the surgery how much he’ll miss,” Burkholder said. … Reid confirmed that Jordan Devey is likely to start in Duvernay-Tardif’s place. “He has experience,” Reid said. “Everybody is confident in him that he can step up and go.”