Chiefs in a rush to boost defense


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Jan 22, 2006
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Chiefs in a rush to boost defense
Improvement has already been seen as the team tries to create more pressure on the passing game.
The Kansas City Star
RIVER FALLS, Wis. - | The grand plans the Chiefs have for improving their defense don’t necessarily hinge on the arrival of Herm Edwards, the play of Ty Law or the development of rookies Tamba Hali and Bernard Pollard.
Those guys may have no impact at all if the Chiefs can’t find a way to generate more of a pass rush than they did last season, when only four teams had fewer than their 29 sacks.

The Chiefs like to point to last season’s improvement in their rushing defense. They climbed to seventh in the league by allowing fewer than 100 yards per game.

They can make no such claim about their pass defense, which was 30th. The additions of a new head coach and some key playing components might help them make similar improvement, but not like a consistent pass rush.

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, after a few days of training camp practice, was cautiously optimistic.

“All through the (offseason practices), I’ve seen the pass rush improve,” he said. “It’s showing up in camp now that we have the pads on.”

Everything starts with end Jared Allen, who led the Chiefs in sacks in each of the last two seasons. He had 11 last season and will probably need at least as many this year if the Chiefs are to make that improvement.

“He’s really improved fundamentally,” Cunningham said. “It took him two years, but he’s a better technical pass rusher. Prior to this, he did it all with heart and attitude. He would just fight you until he got there. That’s a heck of a thing for a guy who’s had 20 sacks in two years.”

Allen is as relentless a pass rusher as anyone the Chiefs have.

“Sacks are still going to come off effort,” Allen said. “Offensive linemen get paid as well. Very rarely are you just going to break someone down and get a clean sack. But I understand better how to position myself to give me a better shot at a sack. I’m learning how to set offensive linemen up better.”

The Chiefs made Hali their starting left end at the start of training camp, but he will also play in their pass defense and might line up in a variety of different places. He had 11 sacks at Penn State last season.

“His first couple of years at college he actually played (defensive tackle),” Edwards said. “So there’s a way when we go to the 3-4 that we can let him rush inside. There are some things we can do. I’m not going to sit here and give my game plan away to 31 teams but we can use him a lot of different ways.

“He’s going to play a lot of football.”

The Chiefs thought they were getting a boost to their pass rush last year when they traded with Tennessee for end Carlos Hall. Hall had eight sacks playing for Cunningham as a rookie with the Titans in 2002 but hasn’t come close to that total since.

He certainly didn’t last season when he had only one. Hall was injured early in camp, didn’t return until shortly before the season and, after playing through an assortment of regular-season injuries, never was able to make much of an impact.

But Hall has made it to this point in camp without a setback and could become a pass rush factor.

“Camp is where it all went bad for me last year,” Hall said. “I never felt right the whole season. This year has been different. I feel good. I’m hungry. I just have to go and get it.”

The pass rush suffered last year mainly because the tackles failed to get adequate push up the middle. The four players who started at tackle last season — Lional Dalton, Ryan Sims, John Browning and Jimmy Wilkerson — combined for just three sacks.

The Chiefs added free agents Ron Edwards and James Reed, but much of the responsibility falls to the starters, Sims and Dalton.

“We’ve got to get better push from the inside,” Cunningham said. “Ryan Sims and Lional Dalton are big, strong guys, but they have to improve their pass rush.”

Hali could also help the Chiefs as a tackle, though the Chiefs have yet to unveil that at camp.

“We’ve talked about a lot of things with him,” Cunningham said. “On some of my mad scientist nights, I’ve come up with some schemes where we can bring him from places where maybe they don’t know where he’s coming from.

“He’s a rookie. If you put too much on him, he may not play effectively.”

Cunningham’s favorite tactic is, of course, the blitz. Ten of last season’s sacks came from linebackers or defensive backs. He said during the offseason that linebacker Kendrell Bell would be more involved as a pass rusher.

Cunningham would prefer not to have the Chiefs blitz as much as last season, when he had little choice. But he didn’t promise that and had a mischievous grin as he talked about it.

“I’ll never say that,” he said. “Our coverage element has been good. Herm always calls me the blitz coach. He told me the ways those guys have been covering, I’ll probably call a blitz every other play.

“You need to keep teams off-balance.”
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