Belcher is KC's Thumper

Posted Dec 9, 2011

Jovan Belcher's physical play has helped bring the best out of teammate Derrick Johnson

Kansas City's cast of linebackers have generated a lot of positive press over the past few weeks.

Derrick Johnson is on pace to shred Mike Maslowski’s single-season tackle record, Tamba Hali is a terror for opposing offensive tackles to block and Justin Houston looks like one of the steals of the 2011 NFL Draft. They’re three linebackers generating a lot of buzz.

And then there’s Jovan Belcher.

The soft spoken “Mike” linebacker, undrafted three years ago out of Maine, rarely gets mentioned when discussing the Chiefs front seven.

“I just try to do my role,” Belcher said. “I guess that’s the best way to put it.”

Belcher handles much of linebackers’ dirty work. Part of that duty includes the elimination of lead blockers so Derrick Johnson can use his rare athleticism to make plays.

“Probably half of my tackles come from Jovan blowing somebody up and I’m scraping over the top,” Johnson said. “He’s not a selfish guy. He knows what he has to do in this defense to allow certain people to scrape over the top for tackles. Sometimes in the 3-4 defense you have to be a sacrifice guy.”

Belcher is that guys. He’s the Chiefs “Thumper” - an unheralded member of the Chiefs linebacking core, but one whose role is vital to the overall success of the group.

“He’s a tough, competitive guy,” head coach Todd Haley said. “That’s a tough position to play, but the number one thing you’ve got to be is tough and you’ve got to be ready to take on big bodies and he’s clearly not afraid to do that.”

“He is a tough guy and we all see the hits he puts on people,” Johnson added. “He headbutts linemen all of the time. He’s just a guy that you want competing next to you.”

Belcher first cracked the Chiefs lineup as a sub-package linebacker playing alongside Johnson in 2009. Corey Mays was the team’s starting strong-side inside linebacker while Demorrio Williams got the nod on the weak side.

Johnson and Belcher developed special on-field chemistry that season and were paired with one another throughout the 2010 offseason as well. Both earned starting roles out of training camp in 2010 and have been fixtures at inside linebacker ever since.

“It seems like we made a transition together,” Johnson said. “That’s the thing about inside linebackers. You have to be on a string. One person can’t run left and the other one run right. It’s a thing where we have to stay together, especially in the 3-4 defense, and he kind of knows my mindset and what I do on the weak side. I definitely know his game on the strong side.”

Belcher showed potential immediately after signing as a rookie free agent shortly after the 2009 NFL Draft. He ran well from sideline-to-sideline and his physicality made him a natural choice for special teams units.

But Belcher was also coming from a smaller school and trying to learn a new position. He had spent his college career playing outside linebacker and defensive end.

“The mental part of his game has skyrocketed,” said Johnson. “He’s come from a system where he was an outside rusher. I didn’t know that and he’s just now telling me he didn’t play inside. That just tells you how much better he can be. He has so much room to grow.”

It didn’t take long for Belcher to force his way into Kansas City’s nickel package and then into base sets. He’s since started 30 games and registered 225 tackles.

“He’s one, in my opinion, that has done nothing but make progress,” Haley said. “He has a tough mindset, tough minded and you saw that in the game last week. I thought one of his better games if not his best game, especially in the first half. “

Like Johnson, Belcher is on pace to turn in the most productive season of his career. He’s five tackles shy of recording a 100-tackle season and ranks second on the team in tackles only to Johnson.

Belcher knows his role. He knows that he’s the team’s “Thumper” – an underappreciated yet incredibly important position.

Even so, the competitor in Belcher wants to somehow top Johnson in tackles, big hits and essentially everything else that goes with playing inside linebacker. The two feed off friendly competition.

“He’ll say, ‘who can get the most tackles’ or ‘who can hit the hardest,’ so he’s a good guy to compete with,” Johnson said.

When asked about Johnson’s incredible season, Belcher just smiles. It’s too early to ease off the competitiveness.

Johnson has a single-season tackle record to break and the Chiefs have more games to win.

“He is one incredible athlete, but I’m just going to say that he beat me to some of these tackles,” Belcher said, trying to hold back a smile. “Even if I have to take on the lead blocker, I expect to make the play. So he just beat me to it. That’s how I see it.”

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