Chris Jones Readying Return to Injury-Depleted Chiefs Defensive Line

Matt Derrick

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's been a house of horrors for the Chiefs' front four this season with a rash of injuries thinning the ranks, but the potential return of Chris Jones against Minnesota Sunday gives defensive line coach Brendan Daly reason for optimism. 

“He's a good player and we look forward to getting him back, that's for sure,” Daly said.

Jones missed the last three games with a groin injury, but he was a full participant in practice on Thursday. His potential return comes at a time when Frank Clark (neck) and Alex Okafor (ankle) aren't practicing, putting their availability in doubt. That leaves Emmanuel Ogbah and Tanoh Kpassagnon as the club's only healthy defensive ends.

Could Jones return this weekend as an edge rusher? Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo didn't rule it out on Thursday. 

“He's done that,” Spagnuolo said. “I don't know which way we'll go with that. When you lose all that time, I want to say it's been three weeks of practice right now. It might take him a little bit for him just getting caught up with being a tackle again. “

Daly say he will “see where it goes” when asked if Jones might fill in as an edge rusher against the Vikings.

“He's working his way back, we're trying to evaluate where he's at in that process,” Daly said. “He's trying to feel where his body's at, so we'll see how that goes. He's got a versatile skillset. He's done a lot of different things.”

Spagnuolo loves Jones' size and his ability to disrupt the offense, but he doesn't want to put too much of a burden on Jones in his return to action. 

“The system is still new to him,” Spagnuolo said. “Don't forget, it wasn't an offseason for Chris, it was just training camp.”

Only three linemen have played in all of the club's first eight games: Derrick Nnadi, Ogbah and Kpassagnon. That's left Daly mining the defensive line group for hidden flexibility and untapped potential.

“You hope that you've done a good job in terms of preparing the depth on your roster so that it's able to step in and step up and pay at a quality level for you when those things happen,” Daly said. “I feel good about the guys that we've had out there. I think they've done a great job in terms of their effort, in terms of their attentiveness, in terms of their being ready when called upon.”

The loss of Xavier Williams to injured reserve in Week 6 send Khalen Saunders from the inactive list during the first four games of the season to the starting lineup during the past three weeks. Daly said the third-round draft pick has made the most of the opportunity thrust upon him.

“Been pleased with him and his sense of urgency and how he's stepped up,” Daly said. “He's got progress to make, he knows that. He's not a ready-made and finished product by any means but happy with the effort he's put forward and the improvement that's been made.”

Even Mike Pennel, who signed with the club early last week, found himself pressed into duty for 24 snaps against Green Bay.

“I don't know that that's a common occurrence, but that happens,” Daly said. “But pleased with what he did for us and hopefully we can continue to get him a little more comfortable and up to speed and he can continue to help us.”

Yet despite all the lineup changes forced by injuries, Daly is pleased with how his group has managed to perform. The front four combined for nine sacks and 14 quarterback hits during the past two games.

“I think guys have done a great job of executing things and I think they've gotten comfortable in terms of playing fast in what we're asking them to do in some instances,” Daly said.

“The evaluation for me goes in terms of what did we do in terms of accomplishing the objectives to effect the quarterback on a consistent basis. We're working to do that.”

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