Training camp is here, and the position battles are furious. It is obvious there are guys fighting and clawing with all of their will to make this roster. There are also guys that are not fighting to make this roster, but fighting to be the guy on this roster that takes the Kansas City Chiefs to the promised land.
Every player on the field is important, there is not way to justify it any other way. But who are the guys that can possibly make or break this team’s chance to return to the playoffs and get out of the first round?
In no order, here are five guys that must play at the top of their game in this upcoming season in order for the Chiefs to have a chance. I will exclude Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith from the list for obvious reasons.
Eric Berry: Camp has gotten off to a rough start for a guy I am predicting a breakout season for. Berry dislocated a finger on day three of practice. This injury will not be enough to dictate any future success or hardship he might have this upcoming season though.
Berry is the general for the back four of this defense- he is the only guy back there that has proven himself on a consistent basis. He might be working with journeymen such as Husain Abdullah, who previously played for the Vikings before taking a year off for personal reasons.
Berry could also be playing with a guy like Marcus Cooper, who is very young and has a lot to learn.
The list goes on and on with unproven or young players that Berry will have to cover for. If Berry can cover up these guys’ learning curve mistakes and go out and make a few plays of his own, which he is fully capable of doing, then the secondary just might be able to stay competitive. The plate is full for this guy and the expectations are through the roof, in a passing league teams can only get so far without a good secondary.
Derrick Johnson: Much like Berry is for the back four, Johnson is the captain of the front seven- what he says goes. Johnson needs to continue to fly around the field and make plays. As long as the Chiefs have this guy in the middle of their defense they have a chance to be a good front seven. The defensive line has gone through a few changes with Tyson Jackson since relocating.
If Johnson can be the steady rock of this defense and help guys play within themselves and not try and do to much this team will be alright. Much like Berry, Johnson will be asked to cover young guys’ mistakes and at the same time make some big plays. Also like Berry, if Johnson can do these things, then the front seven, like the back four, will be what they need it to be.
Justin Houston: Houston is the playmaker of this front seven. While Johnson is the constant, Houston is the lightning in a bottle.
Tamba Hali has been a great Kansas City Chief, the guy has been atop of his position for many years and handled himself with great dignity, but now he plays second fiddle. Houston needs to stay healthy and he needs to be a disruption in the backfield. I wrote in a previous article if Houston stays healthy and keeps his head on straight, he will be flirting with the magic sack number of 20.
Aside from this duty of sacking the QB, Houston will be asked to help bring along rookie Dee Ford. If Houston can help mold this young talent into what he is now, the Chiefs will have the most disruptive pass rushing duo for years to come. Houston will be tasked with a lot of responsibility for such a young player, but it is his time to step up and be the guy the Chiefs need him to be.
Dontari Poe: Poe turned from draft bust into a scary specimen very quickly. There was lots of criticism of Poe after his rookie season, he clearly fed off of that and had one heck of an offseason. If Poe can take even half of the leap he took from his rookie offseason to his 2nd year than this guy will be the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Not just the best nose tackle, but the best on the defensive line.
Poe has more god given talent than most players combined- mix that with his freakish athleticism, and now combine that with the mental part of the game that Poe clearly has gained. This guy is going to disrupt anyone and everyone who tries to run the ball at this team. Poe will be a guy that stops 3rd and short all by himself, he will plug the middle and just pile drive the offensive line backwards. There are not many guys who have what Poe has and can have. Guys like Haloti Ngata and Ndamukong Suh reside in the class Poe will find himself in after this season.
The importance of having a dominant defensive line to take pressure off of everyone behind them is astronomical, and Poe is going to make everyone around him look a whole lot better because of his domination.
Anyone to catch the ball: I am not sure if this is a receiver or tight end or running back or whatever else Andy Reid can find. But the Chiefs need a guy to make plays for Alex Smith, flat out it is that simple. Travis Kelce needs to get on the field and prove all of this hype I and many others have on him, a receiver like A.J. Jenkins or Junior Hemingway needs to emerge opposite of Dwayne Bowe.
For the Chiefs to continue their uprise in the league, they need someone to step up in the passing game. The list of possibilities is endless for this team, but no one has stepped up. That is what training camp is for, so let all Chiefs fans say a prayer together, please can someone step up and make some plays to take the pressure off of Jamaal Charles?