The Kansas City Chiefs entered the 2005 off-season needing immediate help on defense. One of their targeted areas of need was linebacker. The Chiefs have aggressively attacked that need. They went out into free agency and acquired Kendrell Bell who spent the past four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Chiefs went into the 2005 NFL Draft and acquired linebacker Derrick Johnson from the University of Texas with their first pick. Their next stop to procure another play-making linebacker could be found in NFL Europe and the Berlin Thunder. Rich Scanlon is making a case to be another fixture in the Chiefs defensive resurgence with his play in NFL Europe for the Thunder.
The truth is that the Chiefs don’t have to acquire Scanlon. They did that last year when they signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Syracuse. The 6’-2”, 249 lb middle linebacker fits the character profile that Vermeil loves. He’s an intelligent young man having been selected as a CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Academic All-American in each of his final 3 years at Syracuse. He has tremendous passion for the game.
“What I love about football is that it is a game of 11 people going for one goal: to win. I just love to win,” he said. “It's something that isn't hard to say, but it's something I really believe. I love to play football. And I love winning even more.”
Finally, he was very productive at the collegiate level. Scanlon finished his senior season at Syracuse ranked 8th in the nation in tackles with 12.25 tackles per game.
However, those attributes did not earn him a selection on draft day in 2004, nor did it earn him a roster spot at the beginning of the 2004 season. Instead, Scanlon was signed to the Chiefs practice squad and eventually signed to the active roster in November. Scanlon made a contribution on the special teams being credited with 3 special teams tackles.
After the 2004 season, the Chiefs thought so much of Scanlon that they allocated him to NFL Europe to gain playing experience. A former player of Head Coach Dick Vermeil, D’Marco Farr, is coaching Scanlon in Berlin.
“He’s far and beyond what we expected,” Farr said. “He’s a warrior. He’s relentless, and he has a good shot at a professional career in the NFL. I didn’t think he was going to be as tough up the middle as he is.”
Scanlon is making the most of that opportunity. After 7 games, Scanlon is leading NFL Europe in tackles with 66, more than 9 tackles per game. The next closest player has only 50 tackles. In week 5 of the season, Scanlon was voted co-defensive player of the week after posting a league high 15 tackles against Amsterdam.
Ironically, Scanlon is chasing the NFL Europe record for tackles of 105 set by the man whose steps he’s trying to follow and whose job he’s now trying to take, Mike Maslowski. Maslowski made his name in NFL Europe as a tackling machine and parlayed that productivity into a starting linebacker role with the Chiefs.
Timing is everything and now is the ideal time for Scanlon to be making a name for himself. The Chiefs are overhauling their defense and are looking for players that can be explosive playmakers on that side of the ball. One area of uncertainty is the middle linebacker position.
Kawika Mitchell, the incumbent to the starting middle linebacker position, was unproductive most of last season. He does not have a lock on that starting role. The backup middle linebacker position is wide open. The major contenders are Maslowski, 2005 5th round draft pick James “Boomer” Grigsby and Scanlon. Maslowski is coming off an injury that has sidelined him for 2 seasons. Grigsby, drafted out of Illinois State University, has plenty of passion and desire, but very little experience against a high level of talent.
The Chiefs acquired one of the best available free agent linebackers this off-season in Kendrell Bell. They drafted the best linebacker and arguably the best defensive player in the draft this year in Johnson. It is very likely that they will have the best linebacker and arguably the best defensive player in NFL Europe on their roster this season. That player is Rich Scanlon.