DJ Will Be a Special Player for the Chiefs

DJ might be the best Chiefs linebacker since Bell.

With OTA's completed this week, the Kansas City Chiefs begin three days of their annual mini-camp for veterans, rookies and free agents. Beginning today the Chiefs will start the journey that they hope ends in Detroit next February. It's already clear the defense will be better in 2005 and a rookie might be the one who gets them to the Super Bowl.



Normally the excitement for a Chiefs mini-camp is hardly anything to write about. But with an amazing off-season by Kansas City, one that has landed them the likes of linebackers Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson, secondary mates Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight; one can't feel anything but optimism for this unit.

What the Kansas City Chiefs have managed to do in one short off-season is completely rebuild their horrific defense. That's not an easy task; especially when you consider the fact they had only $4.3 million to work with at the start of free agency.

So today some of those high-profile free agents and draft picks will be on the field the next three days trying to take what they've learned in OTA's and show the rest of their teammates that they mean business in 2005.

In watching all the OTA's this past month its clear to me and everyone else watching; that there is a different attitude on this team. The players on defense are focused, they are certainly more aggressive and the overall speed has been nothing short of impressive. But one player has stood out more than any other.

At the top of the list is the aforementioned Derrick Johnson. Without a doubt, he has the opportunity to be one of the games very best outside linebackers. High praise for a rookie who's never stepped foot on the field but he's already the teams best cover linebacker. He's the only one in OTA's that has been able to stop tight end Kris Wilson. He has such instinctive skills that he's already ahead of every other linebacker on the roster including Bell.

However, he's still a rookie and anointing him as the next Derrick Thomas, as others have already done; is something that I'll never do. Each has their own style and special skills. Thomas was an amazing pass rusher whereas Johnson is better in pass coverage. The knock on Thomas was the fact he could not take on blockers but he used that amazing speed to get around offensive tackles.

Johnson has more speed but he's nowhere near the pass rusher that Thomas was the peak of his career. But in this defense, he doesn't have to do that. Johnson instead uses his speed to key in on the ball carrier or receiver. He already possesses the ability to read plays in front of him and has a nose for the football.

In virtually every single practice, Johnson's coverage skills drew the praise of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and the rest of the defensive coaches. Routinely on screen passes or flair passes to running backs, Johnson would be in the receivers' house before the ball made it into their hands. If they were allowed to hit in OTA's, Johnson would have been arrested for murder. He is so quick to the ball that if he's not slowed down or blocked at the point of attack, he'll make play after play.

But what's most impressive about Johnson is that he makes playing football look so easy. He glides on the field and moves with an ease that makes me think he's already a seasoned veteran. He's never out of place and always knows where he's supposed to be on the practice field. That's rare for a veteran let alone a rookie who's never suited up for a regular season game.

So this weekend could be a key time for Johnson and his maturation. The spot light will be on him a little more since this will be his last chance he'll have to impress his coaching staff. It will also be the last time he's on the field until training camp. Even further it's the last time; he'll be able to show management that he's probably the best defensive player to come out of the 2005 NFL Draft and that he should be compensated with a contract worthy of those accolades.

From what I've seen, I can't argue with his thinking. The Chiefs stole him with the 15th pick because the rest of the NFL didn't think he could become a complete linebacker. Well, I have news for the 14 teams that passed on him; Johnson has what it takes to play at this level and be an impact player come opening day. There is no doubt he'll start for this football team and there is little doubt that he expects anything less of himself.

There is little debate that Derrick Johnson is already the Chiefs best defensive player. His teammates marvel at his skill level and confidence. Even more impressive is that Johnson believes and acts like he belongs on the field. He plays with a quiet confidence and does not have a swagger about him that would lead anyone to believe that he won't lead by example. He just works hard, absorbs what the coaches are telling him and goes out on the practice field and executes the plays with a flawless style that I've not seen since Bobby Bell played linebacker for the Chiefs.

Johnson appears to be that special kind of player who comes along every ten years. He'll lead by example and bring out the best in his teammates. They'll want to work as hard as he does and they'll want to be on the field with him when they do battle against opposing offenses.

In short order, we'll see what he can do on the football field when the games really count. Between now and September 11th, Johnson just has to keep building upon what he's done thus far in OTA's and in the off-season. For the Chiefs, they need to get him signed well before training camp so he can lead them to the Promised Land in Motown in February.

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