Pioli's Plan

KC Has to Believe Shaun Smith is the answer at NT.

The 2010 NFL Draft is in the books. Going into the draft everyone felt the positions of needs were plentiful for the Kansas City Chiefs. But this draft was different as GM Scott Pioli had other ideas for his football team.

If Warpaint Illustrated had conducted a pre-draft survey of Chiefs fans, asking them which areas they thought the team most needed to address over the weekend, I'm guessing the most common answers would have looked something like this:
- nose tackle
- inside linebacker
- pass rush
- safety
- wide receiver
- offensive line


Judging by the result of the draft, if we'd asked members of the Chiefs' front office and coaching staff what they wanted to add to the team, the results would have looked more like this:
- big-play ability
- good citizens
- guys who look faster on tape than their 40-yard dash time would indicate
- safety
- kick returner
- tight end


The rather sizeable disconnect between those two lists is the story of the 2010 draft. The consensus seems to be that the Chiefs added several talented players, so criticism of the draft isn't meant to suggest that they collected a stockpile of future busts.

The question is how much can these newly-acquired players actually help the team when more critical areas went unaddressed?

For example, now that the draft is behind us, let's stop and ask ourselves what the Chiefs have done at the linebacker position this offseason. Barring a trade or late free agent signing, it appears the team will go into the 2010 season with almost the exact same lineup as 2009.

True, Derrick Johnson will probably find his way back into a starting role. But for every nice play he makes, he still misses at least 5 tackles along the way. Worse yet, he seems to have personally given tackling lessons to fellow ILB Corey Mays, who was a whiff machine in his own right. And we all know Mike Vrabel isn't getting any younger.

Meanwhile, as the Chiefs opted for a luxury pick like Dexter McCluster in the second round, there were pass-rushing OLBs like Sergio Kindle and Koa Misi sitting right there for the taking. The same goes for a highly-regarded inside linebacker like Daryl Washington.

The 2010 draft class was considered incredibly deep, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But after failing to address the entire front seven through the first three rounds, the Chiefs traded up late on Friday – and took a tight end?

Is there something we're missing here? Are there future starters sitting right under our nose and we don't know it? Is the team so confident in young backups Andy Studebaker, Jovan Belcher, and Pierre Walters that they felt no major upgrades were needed?

Even if we put on our rose-colored glasses and assume that to be the case, it still doesn't help fill the spacious chasm the Chiefs currently have at nose tackle. If there was one position everyone was certain the team had to find in the draft, it was a big-bodied tackle to plug up the middle.

Instead, they ended up passing twice on Terrence Cody in the second round, and then passed twice on Cam Thomas in the fifth. Granted, both of those players had some red flags, but respected front offices like Baltimore and San Diego weren't scared away.

How has the team still not found a nose tackle? Do they expect the addition of Shaun Smith to make a noticeable difference at the position? Was there actually something to the pre-draft talk of trying Glenn Dorsey there? Unless the Chiefs switch to a one-gap scheme, expecting Dorsey to fill that role seems like a questionable idea at best.

Other than the expectation that their second year in the scheme will bring improvement from players like Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, there's seems to be little reason to expect the Chiefs' 31st ranked run defense to show much improvement.

In fact, it seems like the only reason for hope is the addition of Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator. Is that the plan? That a coordinator alone can take the same group of talent and make them play considerably better than they did the year before?

Because that didn't work out too well for the Chiefs back in 2004, when they brought back Gunther Cunningham and did nothing to improve the personnel. The defense actually regressed that year, giving up a touchdown more per game than they had under Greg Robinson in 2003.

Of course, it goes without saying that Crennel has a better resume than Gunther could ever dream of. But the overall point remains the same -- counting on a coordinator to single-handedly patch things up might not be the best strategy.

But, hey, maybe we're missing the point. After all, judging by the draft, it seems like the Chiefs have settled on a three-pronged plan for victory in 2010: be creative and score lots of points on offense, return lots of kicks and punts for touchdowns, and then let Eric Berry roam free in the secondary when the other team starts passing to catch up.

If that's the strategy, then ignoring the front seven makes sense. They'll be lucky to win two games that way, but at least we can take some comfort in knowing there's a plan in place.

In all seriousness, over the offseason the Chiefs have added Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann to the offensive line, Thomas Jones to spell Jamaal Charles, draftees McCluster and Tony Moeaki to the passing game, and now they have Charlie Weis sitting at the controls. As long as Matt Cassel doesn't wet the bed, there's the potential of a productive offense there.

Unfortunately, if the offense does come around, it seems destined – at least in 2010 – to be hamstrung by a defense that won't be holding up its end of the bargain.

An effective offense, dangerous kick returners, a porous defense -- all this time we thought Scott Pioli wanted to recreate the Patriots. Who knew that he wanted to recreate the Dick Vermeil Chiefs instead?

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