2010 Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

Posted Jul 23, 2010

A pair of three-down performers from 2009 return as starters, but there is some talent lurking in the reserve ranks

Back for more: Tamba Hali; Andy Studebaker; Mike Vrabel; Pierre Walters

Welcome to KC: Justin Cole (rookie free agent); Cameron Sheffield (draft pick)

Departures: None

2009 Starts: Hali (16); Vrabel (14); Studebaker (2)

Career Games Played: Vrabel (190); Hali (63); Studebaker (22); Walters (3); Cole (0); Sheffield (0)

Preview: Is this position group one of the most stable on the Chiefs roster heading into training camp? A pair of three-down veteran performers, in Tamba Hali and Mike Vrabel, return from the 2009 squad. Both players manned their familiar first-team posts throughout OTAs and mini-camp and are anticipated to do the same when camp opens next week.

There wasn’t much movement among the Chiefs outside linebackers in 2009. Outside of the two games (and a portion of another) that Vrabel was injured, starters Hali and Vrabel were on the field non-stop. After playing just a handful of defensive snaps over the first eight games of the season, Andy Studebaker shined in Vrabel’s absence and appears to have cemented himself, at a minimum, as the group’s top reserve.

Did Studebaker do enough in a reserve role last season and throughout this off-season to warrant more playing time in 2010? He’s expected to once again be a vital part of the coverage units on special teams, but an impressive training camp could be just the ingredient to catapult him to more time in the defensive rotation.

Pierre Walters took a “redshirt” last season as the Chiefs coaching staff took aim in developing the former collegiate defensive end that possess a great football frame. He played in just three games and received only a handful of defensive snaps. Walters will face competition in the reserve ranks from a pair of rookies in fifth-round pick Cameron Sheffield and rookie free agent Justin Cole.

Ironically, Cole has the most positional experience of any outside linebacker on this football team outside of Vrabel. Obviously, Cole’s experience doesn’t come at the pro level, but everyone else in this position group either transitioned into the position last year or is doing so this year. Even Vrabel originally entered the league as a defensive end with Pittsburgh in 1997.

Hali’s transition to the outside linebacking position was well received in 2009 as he was easily the club’s most disruptive defender. He led the team with 8.5 sacks, but remained strived for more and went to work this off-season pm improving the intricacies of the position such as spot drops, backside play and read recognitions. At age 26, the Chiefs are excited about the possibilities which await Hali in his second year at the position.

Quotable: The following player or coach quotes occurred this off-season, relative to the position group.

Todd Haley doesn’t think Studebaker should pigeonhole himself as a reserve player…

“I have told Andy a bunch of times, ‘don’t you assume that you can’t be number one. You need to be pushing because who is to say that you can’t do it?’ That is his mindset and he has a great mentor in Mike (Vrabel) that he follows around non-stop.”

Haley believes that good days are ahead for Hali…

“He’s a guy that I don’t hear a lot about, but this is an impressive guy who has really, in my opinion, bought in to what is going on around here, wants to be a special player and wants to be part of a really good team. He is a passionate guy that I think has put everything he has into the off-season once again, like he did last year. I think he’ll start to see some more of those rewards here as he continues to become a big-time player.”

The presence of Vrabel at voluntary workouts was felt throughout the locker room this off-season, according to Haley…

“There is no doubt when you have a presence like G Brian Waters and LB Mike Vrabel that there is a positive impact along with the guys who have shown clear leadership for us. They are making that step and from last year at this point, it is not close, that is all I can say there. There is a different vibe and energy in there.”

Number Crunch: The Chiefs carried five outside linebackers on the Opening Day roster in 2009 – *Hali, Turk McBride, Studebaker, *Vrabel and Walters

*indicates opening day starter

Up Next: Cornerbacks

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