Chiefs defense in the walkthrough portion of a recent OTA practice. (kcchiefs photo)
After the first week of OTAs, we took a look at what the Chiefs offense was getting done in the practices. In the recently completed second week, our attention has turned to the defense. Here are some observations, opinions and information on the work done by the defense:
The Chiefs are not wasting any time in getting first-round draft choice Dee Ford involved in the defense.
Over three OTA practices this past week, Ford got quite a few snaps with the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 sub-defense in the nickel and dime schemes. There are plays available since starting outside linebacker Justin Houston has not taken part in the voluntary sessions. But veteran Frank Zombo has been running in Houston’s spot in the starting defense.
Ford is getting his chances in the No. 1 defense at right or weakside linebacker, in Tamba Hali’s spot. Hali has gotten more plays off than other linebackers, giving Ford a chance to work with the first unit. When his time with the second defense comes up, Ford handles the left or strong side, where Houston has been the starter.
“I think he’s done a great job of jumping in the books and learning the drops and the things that you need to do with the pass coverage,” said head coach Andy Reid. “That’s not an easy thing with all the combination things that we do.”
When it comes to pass coverage Ford struggles at times. When it comes to rushing the passer, his skills are obvious.
One player at the front of the offense has not been very obvious â€“ unrestricted free agent signee Vance Walker. The big man (6-2, 305 pounds) who played last year with Oakland has gotten no time with the No. 1 defense, and sometimes doesn’t get on the field with the No. 2 unit. It’s always tough for linemen to stand out in the OTAs that are largely non-contact, but Walker hasn’t flashed at all when he’s been on the field.
“He’s done a good job; he’s been working in there,” said defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “We’ve got him playing a couple different positions in there. He’s learning our techniques. I think Vance is going to be fine.”
Another player not getting a lot of snaps on the defensive side is second-year inside linebacker Nico Johnson. Last year’s fourth-round choice in the NFL Draft barely got on the field last season on defense. A pre-season high ankle sprain brought to a halt any development for the former University of Alabama starter and defensive leader.
“I think he’s an improved player from a year ago,” said Sutton. “He has a better understanding of it (defensive scheme). He did a nice job out there in some coverage drills. That was an area he had to improve on, and he has done that.
“He’s improved his grasp of the concepts on defense. Playing defense is about understanding and knowing where your help is. The more you understand that, the better you can play, whether a running play or pass.”
One of last season’s draft choices getting opportunities during the OTAs is safety Sanders Commings. When the Chiefs go to their most frequent sub-defense, Commings and cornerback Chris Owens come in, with a defensive end and inside linebacker going off the field. In those plays sometimes Commings plays back, at other times he’s closer to the line of scrimmage and picking up an inside receiver in coverage.
“He’s working hard on his breaks, and that’s a big part of that deep safety,” Sutton said. “The more familiar he becomes with what we are doing, the better off he will be. This is really his rookie season, he’s starting over. I think he’s done a real good job so far.”
More on each position group:
– Defensive line: the release of Risean Broussard on Thursday left 11 linemen on the roster. The first group has been the familiar names of nose tackle Dontari Poe and defensive ends Mike DeVito and Allen Bailey. The second group has featured nose tackle Jaye Howard with Mike Catapano and Walker at defensive end . . . Catapano has bulked up over the off-season, but also appears to be quicker.
– Linebacker: other than Ford getting worked into the No. 1 base defense for some snaps, there have not been many surprises. The No. 2 linebackers include Ford and second-year Josh Martin at outside linebacker, with James-Michael Johnson and Nico Johnson usually handling the inside duties. Johnson goes off in the nickel and Mays comes on the field; he’s not part of the No. 1 nickel. A couple of undrafted rookies have shown flashes: DeRon Furr and Ben Johnson.
– Secondary: with Brandon Flowers staying home, Marcus Cooper is working with the No. 1 defense at left cornerback. Sean Smith has handled right cornerback with Eric Berry and Husain Abdullah at safety. In the sub-defense, Commings and Owens come onto the field. The No. 2 secondary has been third-round draft choice Phillip Gaines at left corner and Ron Parker on the right. At safety Commings has mixed in with Malcolm Bronson, Daniel Sorensen and Jerron McMillan. While he’s been on the field with the sub-defense covering the slot receiver, Owens hasn’t gotten many snaps with the regular defense.