Heading into the 2021 season, many viewed the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive line as a group that could be a strength for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The transition of Chris Jones from a full-time defensive tackle to more of a hybrid role and the addition of Jarran Reed left plenty of optimism surrounding a group that struggled to generate consistent pressure in 2020. Through six games, the results have been underwhelming.
Jones' season can best be summed up as a mixed bag. He's flashed greatness at some times and looked lost on others. He's also currently battling a wrist injury that has held him out of the Chiefs' past two games. The star opposite him, Frank Clark, has missed time due to hamstring injuries. The Reed signing has yet to pan out.
When Jones returns, things are going to get interesting. It isn't time to completely pull the plug on any experiments nor go all-in on any others, but decisions will need to be made in regards to how snaps are distributed. Mark Van Sickle of Arrowhead Report joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker podcast to talk about how recent developments impact the Chiefs' front four.
Mike Danna, the Chiefs' 2020 fifth-round pick, was merely a decent role player in his rookie season. He displayed the ability to set a quality edge against the run and perhaps even luck into a rare pressure or sack as a pass-rusher. In 2021, though, things have been different. Danna appears to be quicker, yet he packs a bit more of a punch. His understanding of Spagnuolo's scheme is better. His motor still runs as hot as ever, and he's done a solid job filling in where the Chiefs have needed him to.
Additionally, Clark had five pressures two weeks ago against the Bills and stood out a few times against the Washington Football Team on Sunday. If he's finally healthy and locked in, that changes the equation for the Chiefs' defense. In that scenario, Clark is a top-two defensive lineman on the team and is far from the player he's been for difficult stretches during his tenure in Kansas City.
Even Reed and nose tackle Derrick Nnadi played a role in working against Washington's banged-up line. Second-year man Tershawn Wharton recorded the first interception of his career. Rookie Joshua Kaindoh may add high-upside depth once he returns from an ankle injury at some point this season, too.
A single player improving his level of play isn't going to save the Chiefs' defense. On the other hand, if Danna can continue to play fundamentally sound football, Clark is able to stay healthy, the interior provides an uptick in pressure and Jones returns soon, there's a path to improvement. That's a theme for the defense as a whole: progress across the board. If the entire defensive line comes together as a collective unit instead of boasting sporadic breakouts from individual players, things may begin to look up for the Chiefs long-term.
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