In Pursuit of Defense


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Jan 22, 2006
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In Pursuit of Defense
May 19, 2006, 8:08:47 AM by Bob Gretz

Sometime this weekend the Chiefs defense will see about a 90-second snippet of videotape that will be one of the early indicators that the world around Arrowhead Stadium has changed in significant ways.

The tape is from a practice session of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few years ago. It shows the Bucs defense going through a drill. The 11 defenders lineup in their normal positions, while another group of players and coaches pose as offensive players on the other side of the football. The ball is snapped and all 11 defensive players immediately turn and run towards the end zone, which is about 35 yards away.

OK, they don’t run. They sprint. They haul their behinds like a large predator is chasing them. They run like somebody has just lit them on fire and the only water is in the end zone. They run like their lives depend on them finishing this sprint as fast as possible.

And, in some ways their professional life does depend on them moving as quickly as possible over that yardage.

It’s called the pursuit drill and the premise is simple: the ball is snapped and put into play and 11 men of various size, shape and speed all converge at the spot where they’ll find the ball.

The idea is to establish in the minds of the defensive players that there’s never a play they should take off, even if the action is on the other side of the field. That means if there’s a running play to the right, then the left cornerback has the farthest to run, and he has to run the fastest to catch up. It means that if there’s a pass completed 10 yards down the field, by the time the receiver turns and attempts to gain yards after the catch, he’s soon surrounded by more than a half-dozen defensive players, with another five coming up as reinforcement.

Very simply, it’s the foundation of the way the Chiefs will play defense in 2006. It has been the foundation of the way the Tampa Bay Bucs have gone about their business on that side of the ball for over 10 years now. It comes from the time when Tony Dungy showed up in the Bay to take over the moribund franchise and joined forces with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and assistant head coach Herman Edwards.

The pursuit drill became a regular part of the Bucs’ preparation. In fact, it was an every day thing until the players understood that they would play defense that way … all out, full speed, converge on the ball.

It’s a big part of the reason Tampa Bay has been one of the best and most consistent defensive groups in the league since the mid-1990s. Kiffin is outstanding as a coordinator and there has always been talent on the roster with guys like Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, John Lynch and others. Consider this: in the six seasons of the 21st Century, Tampa Bay has had 20 Pro Bowl nominations among seven different defensive players. In that same time span, the Chiefs had one defensive player selected in one year: Jerome Woods, in 2003. (The Chiefs released Woods on Thursday.)

But the biggest part of the reason the Bucs have been so good on defense has been that attitude of relentless pursuit.

“It’s the foundation of what we will do defensively,” said Edwards.

Those bricks will start getting laid this weekend at the team’s mini-camp.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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