When you think of great safety hitters you think of Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane, Steve Atwater, John Lynch and, in Kansas City, Lloyd Burruss. In River Falls lately, another player appears to be joining those ranks with the Chiefs.
Despite a sore hand sustained Tuesday morning after a goal line collision, second-year safety Bernard ‘Bonecrusher’ Pollard appears to be taking the next step in his elevation from back up to starter.
The Chiefs revamped secondary is something that has been in the works since Herm Edwards took the job in 2006. In years past, the big problem has been the inability of the corners and safeties to stay with receivers long enough. But it hasn’t always been their fault. Until last year, KC’s pass rush was below average.
This year it’s a whole new ballgame because the defensive line is better and the linebackers might be the best in team history. Throw in a veteran cornerback tandem and you’ve got a recipe for success in 2007.
That’s where Pollard comes into play. He has linebacker instincts in a safety’s body. He has strength, speed and big-hit ability. If he were a boxer, he’d be labeled as a knockout power.
In this defense, he only lacks experience. During OTAs this past Spring, Pollard knew a starting job was there for the taking if he could develop his game and let his natural talents blend with the complexities of the Cover Two defense.
But despite the obvious opportunity for Pollard this year, he’s hardly sitting back and waiting for the Chiefs defensive coaching staff to anoint him the starter.
“I’m very excited, it’s a lot of fun,” said Pollard on Tuesday. “I’m back there with a great group of guys like (Patrick) Surtain, (Ty) Law and (Jarrad) Page. It’s something I don’t want to give up. I’m going to give it 150 to 200 percent. I’m learning every day.”
Pollard has worked hard this offseason, and that’s something Edwards rewards. The old adage is that if you play like you practice, you’ll become productive on Sundays.
Still, there was a learning curve for Pollard from his rookie season to the present.
“My first year, it was something new to me,” said Pollard. “At Purdue, it was not this difficult, but it’s really not difficult. It’s just not something I’ve done before. It’s like bringing in a kid who was home-schooled, and putting him in the 10th grade and expecting him to know everything. I mean, this is the NFL. Last year I did a lot of learning. I’m still learning this year.”
At Purdue, “Bonecrusher” delivered legendary hits. Generally, those were reserved for Big Ten opponents. But on Monday morning, Pollard welcomed Chiefs running back Michael Bennett, almost knocking him back to Minnesota with a crushing hit that left the running back with his feet in the air and his back against the ground.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Pollard of his big play. “(Bennett) cut up in the hole kind of quick, and I just wanted to get my face on him. I’m the last line of defense and I knew that if I didn’t get him, then Page would have got him.”
That’s the sign of a mature player. Second-year NFL players do one of two things - they either get it, or they don’t. They either learn they can trust their teammates, or they try to do too much. When they do the latter, they incur the wrath of the head coach while letting down their teammates.
KC’s two young safeties have to learn to trust the nine guys in front of them. Part of that trust involves the Chiefs’ linebacker trio of Derrick Johnson, Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards.
“You have someone like DJ and Donnie who can shoot the gaps like no others,” said Pollard. “That’s where we have to back them up.”
Judging from his play in River Falls, one thing is certain - Pollard has his game face on. If Kansas City’s defense is going to become one of the best in the NFL, they’ll need him to keep hitting every chance he gets.