KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The thought had occurred to Brett Veach many times during his first season as the general manager as he watched the defense of the Kansas City Chiefs get pushed around during a game: His team needed more defenders who played with an edge.
The idea solidified during last season’s playoff loss to Tennessee, particularly in the second half as he watched the Titans go on three long touchdown drives and then kill the clock at the end of the game against Kansas City’s hapless defense.
It was time for Veach and the Chiefs to do something about the problem.
"We weren’t happy where we were," Veach said. “You play a home playoff game and the team drives the ball and chews up nine minutes on the clock. That’s not good enough. Sometimes it just comes down to having guys that are wired right, guys that want to line up and play four quarters of football. Our need [was] to just get tougher.
“We talked about bringing a toughness and mentality in regards to how the defense is going to play, how we’re going to line up on Sundays."
It’s hard to fault Veach’s effort in this regard following a draft that saw the Chiefs pick defensive players with their top five choices, starting with second-round linebacker Breeland Speaks of Mississippi. Even the offensive player the Chiefs took with their final pick, Tennessee’s Kahlil McKenzie, was a defensive tackle in college. He will move to guard in Kansas City.
"These guys are physical players and they play that style that we want to emulate," Veach said. “You look at some of those teams over the years... I always look at those Steelers teams and Ravens and how those guys just kind of roll their sleeves up and play football. It’s a four-quarter battle and that’s kind of the mentality we want to have. Speaks is a guy like that, [third-round defensive lineman Derrick] Nnadi is a guy like that and [third-round linebacker] Dorian O'Daniel is a guy like that. These guys play four quarters, they leave it all on the field and again they bring that kind of temperament we’re looking for.”
The Chiefs already had some defenders who played with the kind of edge they want. Linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry are among them. But the team didn't feel they had enough players like that.
The Chiefs unloaded a talented cornerback, Marcus Peters, for a variety of reasons. His at-times bizarre behavior was holding them back. His rookie contract was nearing its end and they felt investing big in a second deal for Peters was risky.
But Peters also had developed a sudden distaste for contact, one he acknowledged in an interview with the NFL Network after saying his trade to the Rams was a "business decision." He didn’t want to get injured with his big payday approaching. The way Peters went out of his way to avoid contact last season was almost comical at times. But it wasn’t funny to the Chiefs.
Whether the Chiefs succeeded in their ability to transform their defense, statistically one of the worst in the NFL last season, remains unclear. For now, Hitchens and Ragland will be their starting inside linebackers. Speaks will be asked to provide pass-rush help in relief of the starting outside linebackers, Houston and Dee Ford.
Nnadi will play as part of the defensive-line rotation, O’Daniel perhaps in passing situations and certainly on special teams. The last two defenders picked, fourth-round safety Armani Watts and sixth-round cornerback Tremon Smith, will get looks at positions where the Chiefs are thin.
"Last year we had a situation where [Ford] was hurt, right?" Veach said. "Frankie Zombo had to play a lot of plays. Now we bring Breeland in here and we feel we have the ability to have Justin, Dee and then Breeland in there. And then Tanoh [Kpassagnon] can still develop and do a little bit of both [strong side and weak side linebacker] and then Frankie can assume more of a [special] teams role.
“Nnadi will be in that rotation and with O’Daniel you are looking at the percentages you play in that dime stuff and then all the [special] teams. These guys will be on the field and be contributors. And again, they will make their presence felt because of how they play and the way they play.”