Chiefs Trying To Find Their Nose

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

That’s just the first part of one of the most memorable lines uttered by comedian-actor-writer W.C. Fields. Few people know there’s a second part of this famous quote:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Maybe that’s something the Kansas City Chiefs should acknowledge as they enter the 2011 NFL Draft and consider drafting another defensive tackle. On the offensive side of the football, the Chiefs have been a disaster when it comes to drafting quarterbacks.

On the defense, the position that has stymied the Chiefs for years has been inside players for their defensive line. They have not had success in the draft, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying again, and again, and again.

No NFL team over the last decade has invested more quality draft choices in defensive tackles than the Chiefs. They ended up drafting eight players who played at DT in rounds one-two-three in the NFL Drafts 2001-10. In that same decade, no other NFL team drafted more than four DTs.

That was two in the first round – Ryan Sims (2002) and Glenn Dorsey (2008); three in the second round – Eddie Freeman (2002), Junior Siavii (2004), Turk McBride (2007); and three in the third round – Eric Downing (2001), Tank Tyler (2007), Alex Magee (2009).

To that list you can add defensive ends – Tamba Hali (1st-round/2006) and Tyson Jackson (1st-round/2009). That’s 10 premium picks in 10 years along the defensive line.

No other area of the team got that kind of attention in the early rounds of the draft. In the last 10 drafts, the Chiefs have drafted 31 players in the first three rounds. They break down by position in this fashion:

  • Defensive line – 10.
  • Wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, cornerback and safety – 3 each.
  • Running back, offensive line – 2 each.
  • Quarterback, punter – 1 each.

Any NFL team that wants to play the 3-4 defense and hopes to field a unit that can control the flow of the game must have a force at nose tackle. It’s imperative on the early downs that there’s an immovable rock in the middle who can handle the center and the A gaps to each side of the snapper.

Want to field a 3-4 defense that stops the run? Then a big, hulking body on the inside is required. Evidence sits at the top of the defensive statistics from the 2010 NFL season, where four of the five defenses that led the league in fewest yards allowed were base 3-4 units with nose tackles that averaged 6-2½, 326 pounds.

That’s the type of player that sits near the top of the Chiefs wish list for the 2011 NFL Draft.

Under Romeo Crennel in his first season, the Chiefs improved on defense last year, despite a limited injection of new talent in the front seven. The Kansas City defense finished 14th in yards allowed in ’10, giving up an average of 330 yards per game. The season before they ranked No. 30, allowing 388 yards per game. Defense was the biggest area of improvement at Arrowhead Stadium.

But the defense against the run allowed an average gain of 4.3 yards per carry, and they had a tough time at the end of the season stopping the run. San Diego ran for 207 yards and 4.8 yards per carry in week No. 14 and Oakland hit for 209 yards and 5.6 yards per carry in the regular season finale.

While they allowed an average of 110 rushing yards per game over the ’10 season, in six games against AFC West teams, the K.C. defense gave up 158.5 rushing yards per game. That’s a five-yard per carry average.

In stopping the passing game, the Chiefs need more of a push in the middle than they’ve gotten in the two seasons they’ve operated out of the 3-4 scheme. They had 38 total sacks in the ’10 season, but just two of those came from the nose tackle position. The season before, they had 22 sacks with none coming from the nose tackle spot. Now, a lot of that is due to the fact like most teams the Chiefs shift out of their 3-4 when it’s an obvious passing situation and goes with a 2-4-5 or 2-3-6, with defensive ends staying in the game.

Starter Ron Edwards (6-3, 315 pounds) and backup Shaun Smith (62, 325 pounds) handled the nose in ’10. Edwards will be 32 years old and in his 11th NFL season and Smith will turn 30 and will be in his seventh league season if the league gets on the field for games in 2011. But, both players may not be with the Chiefs – they are free agents and no matter the free-agent concept that is part of the league’s new labor agreement, Edwards and Smith should be unrestricted.

There’s little else in the pipeline for the position. Backup Anthony Toribio was a waiver-wire claim at the start of the ’10 season from the Packers. Toribio (6-1, 315 pounds) was dressed for five games but saw only a handful of defensive snaps. On the practice squad and signed for the ’11 season is Dion Gales (6-5, 310), who has three games of NFL experience.

Unless the league’s lockout of the players ends sometime in the next two weeks, the NFL Draft will be the first opportunity the Chiefs will have to improve the talent level at nose tackle. They figure to take at least one defensive lineman.

Among last year’s top 26 nose tackles for 13 teams that played the 3-4 as their base defense, 21 were selected in the NFL Draft, including four in the first round and 10 were picks from rounds one-two-three.

Whether it makes sense to try, try again, the Chiefs need a mountain in the middle and they need him soon and this year’s draft is as good a time as any.

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