September 02, 2009
SI's 2009 NFL Scouting Reports
Kansas City Chiefs
Projected Finish: 2nd in AFC West
Dorsey (left) will pair up at DE with '09 pick Jackson, his Baton Rouge roomie.
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
2009 Schedule

This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

The rush is on to shape an LSU-dominated front seven into a unit that pressures the other team, for a change.

Glenn dorsey went to a luncheon in Kansas City this summer expectingthe standard fare: chicken breast, bread roll and all-you-can-eat optimism aboutthe 2009 season. He wound up with an extra helping of reassurance, deliveredfrom an unexpected source. Neil Smith approached Dorsey during the event andtold him about a highly touted defensive end from New Orleans who was drafted atNo. 2 by the Chiefs in 1988 but finished his rookie year with just 2 1/2 sacksfor a team that went 4-11-1. The following year K.C. drafted future Hall ofFamer Derrick Thomas. With Thomas monopolizing attention, the end from NewOrleans had 6 1/2 sacks in his second season, and the Chiefs went 8-7-1. The yearafter that he racked up 9 1/2 sacks for an 11-5 club.

The subject of the story, of course, was Smith himself. "I used to watch Neilwhen I was growing up in Louisiana, and I think he saw that we had some thingsin common," says Dorsey. "He wanted me to remember to keep pushing."

The similarities between Smith's background and Dorsey's are startling.Dorsey was drafted at No. 5 out of LSU last year but finished his rookie seasonwith only one sack, in part because he never took the time to allow a sprainedknee in training camp to fully heal and started all 16 games. Now that KansasCity, under first-year coach Todd Haley, is switching to a 3-4, Dorsey is movingfrom tackle to end, where he'll play opposite this year's first-round draft pickout of LSU, Tyson Jackson. No one is comparing Jackson to Thomas, but Jackson isalso a vaunted speed rusher and should not need long to develop into a forcethat could free up Dorsey. They were Tigers teammates -- and roommates -- who stillreminisce about taking their recruiting trips to Baton Rouge on the sameweekend.

The Chiefs have a host of promising defensive linemen, including '06first-rounder Tamba Hali, '07 second-rounder Turk McBride and '07 third-rounderTank Tyler. The shift to a three-man front will move some of them out of theirnatural positions. While Dorsey slides from tackle to end, Hali and McBride aremigrating from end to outside linebacker, and tackle Tyler is learning to playthe nose. All must embrace a system in which linemen are often asked to occupyblockers while linebackers get most of the shots at the quarterback and theballcarrier.

"We have a lot of highly drafted defensive linemen here, but I think we canuse that to our advantage," Tyler says. "We're all talented enough to getourselves in a position to make plays."

Something had to change about the K.C. defense after it finished last seasonranked 31st in the NFL and mustered only 10 sacks, lowest for a team since theleague began keeping sack statistics in 1982. There are a lot of reasons theChiefs won only two games last year -- inconsistent quarterback play, a dearth ofcontributors in their prime, an unhappy Larry Johnson, an inordinate number oflast-minute losses -- but the lack of a pass rush was at or near the top of thelist. "We have to create more havoc in the backfield," says Haley. "It justhas to happen."

Kansas City has undergone a massive makeover. In addition to the new coachand the new defense, there is a new general manager, Scott Pioli, and a newquarterback, Matt Cassel, both by way of the Patriots. Haley, the offensivecoordinator in Arizona last season, brought with him defensive coordinatorClancy Pendergast, a 3-4 proponent. The Chiefs should be better with Cassel (whomight be slowed by an injured knee to start the season), but how much betterreally depends on that front seven -- whether all the bonus babies can realizetheir potential in the new scheme. "It's going to be a different mind-set,"Dorsey says, "but I like the change." Playing end, he enjoys more freedom, seesfewer double teams and, when times get rough, can call on a mentor who was oncein the same spot.

-- Lee Jenkins


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