5 Days to Camp: Derrick Johnson

Photos: John Rieger/Isaia Downing USA Today Sports

In the history of the Kansas City Chiefs franchise, I can’t think of one player that personifies consistency more than Linebacker, Derrick Johnson. Entering his 10th NFL season the standout defender doesn’t appear to be ready to hang up his cleats anytime soon.

When I look at Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker, Derrick Johnson, I marvel at his longevity in a sport that doesn’t award many of its players the opportunity for lengthy careers. In reality, lasting that long in the NFL is one mighty impressive feat. Though, this will be his tenth NFL season, it boggles the mind he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level at his thirty something age.

The average NFL player makes it five or six seasons. The former 2005 former first round pick from the University of Texas player has been a stalwart defender for the Chiefs every since his rookie season. Even with a hiccup season in 2009, where he struggled mightily, I’m almost ready put him in the same class as some of the franchises greatest linebackers.

That legendary list includes the likes of Bobby Bell, Jim Lynch, Willie Lanier, Donnie Edwards, Gary Spani and Derrick Thomas. The Chiefs have always been blessed with great linebackers but DJ has stood the test of time and just seems to get better with age.

In 2013, DJ had 107 tackles (95 solo), 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries. Think about that for a minute. He’s 31 years old and he’s still putting a beat down on a bunch of twenty-year-old kids. All he does it put up stellar numbers every season. In fact, he needs just 130 tackles to reach 1,000 for his NFL career.

But what makes his career so impressive in Kansas City, might be the fact he’s played every linebacker position plus had to endure numerous defensive coordinators and head coaches. That’s not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult for any player to learn and execute difference defensive schemes. In order to do it seamlessly, you have to be driven and blessed with extraordinary talent.

Entering the 2014 season DJ won’t be taking anything for granted. Last season KC’s defense collapsed against some of the games greatest quarterbacks. That can’t happen this season if the Chiefs want to earn another playoff trip in January.

That means DJ and veteran, Joe Mays, have to lock down the middle of KC’s defense. After all, the team is already set on the outside with Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and rookie, Dee Ford. But make no mistake about it; DJ is the man who has to lead them back to respectability and productivity.

But even with that leadership in tact, each member of the Chiefs defense has to learn to trust one another. Where they failed last season was their inability to make adjustments from one series to the next. To often, teams ran the same play over and over again daring the Chiefs to stop them.

For a player like DJ, he’s at his best when he reads a play and reacts to it. But sometimes, you have to stay in your zone and let the play come to you. DJ is a legitimate playmaker and probably the Chiefs best all around defender. He can stuff the run, cover tight ends and can sack opposing quarterbacks. But he can’t do it alone.

It’s clear if this defense is going to rebound from their awful performance in the second half of last season, they need to quit falling prey to excuses. For that to change, DJ has to remind his defensive mates they need to play like a team and give it their collective all on every snap.

That means DJ has to do the preaching. Fair or not that leadership role might become the biggest challenge of his career in Kansas City. If this defense wants to play meaningful games in December and January, DJ must lead them. That means he needs to be more vocal in the huddle, call out his defensive mates if need be and back it up with his play on the field.

Kansas City has a plethora of talented defenders but it was clear last season they were never on the same page as a unit. But at the heart of their failures, not a single defender imposed his will to change the outcome of game after their 9-0 start.

So if DJ wants the Chiefs to wash away the taste of last years epic late season meltdown versus the Broncos, Chargers and Colts, he needs take the defensive ball and run with it.

Next Up: Sanders Commings

How long can DJ play at this level?

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