Chiefs Continue Counting On Threes

Posted Apr 16, 2011

Development of third-year players, like Tyson Jackson, remains a priority for Chiefs

By the time mid-April rolled around last year, the Chiefs off-season workout program was already kicking in full swing.

Between workouts, Brandon Flowers talked about his shoulder rehab and taking on a leadership role in 2010. Matt Cassel revealed that the Chiefs Indoor Facility trumped California as a training location. Thomas Jones came over from New York as advertised and we found out that signing Casey Wiegmann helped convince Ryan Lilja to re-join the Chiefs.

From a coaching perspective, off-season emphasis centered upon developing the team’s young, in-house talent. Players who were entering their third-year proved extra critical to the Chiefs turning a corner (i.e. Jamaal Charles, Glenn Dorsey, Brandon Carr and Flowers).

As labor negotiations continue, things are quieter around Arrowhead this year, but the importance of third-year players making an impact hasn’t diminished. At the top of the list for 2011 is former first-round pick Tyson Jackson.

“I think we do have a good player in Tyson Jackson,” GM Scott Pioli said on Friday. “I know the jury is still out, we all need to see that.”

A knee injury suffered against San Diego in the season opener derailed Jackson until early November. He would start just three games during his sophomore campaign and logged the same amount of tackles (31) he produced as a rookie.

Through two years, Jackson owns a sack and nine quarterback pressures.

“Everyone in our organization is pretty confident still that Tyson is going to be a good player,” Pioli re-confirmed.

Dorsey, who was drafted fifth overall the year before Jackson, turned in two quiet seasons before breaking out as a third-year pro. In addition to playing over 900 defensive snaps (more plays than any other defensive lineman by 400 snaps), Dorsey also set career-highs in tackles (60), sacks (2.0) and quarterback pressures (15).

Dorsey produced just five QB hurries over his first two NFL seasons.

Whether or not Jackson follows the same path as his collegiate teammate remains to be seen, but the Chiefs no doubt need the third-year player to take the next step this off-season. Other notable “threes” entering 2011 include Jovan Belcher, Ryan Succop and Donald Washington.

Perhaps just as critical, if not more important than the development of year-three players, is the load of second-year players expected to contribute for the Chiefs in 2011. Nearly the entire 2010 Draft Class would be penciled into starting roles if the season began today. Pioli isn't ready to say that those players are where they need to be.

“I think the jury’s still out on the 2010 draft, we don’t know where that is going to end up,” said Pioli. “Sure, we had a number of good young players that came in and contributed as players, but again, the greater contribution that that group of players made was from a make-up standpoint, how they helped us on that continuum of changing the culture and buying into and believing, buying into the way the head coach wants to do things, the way he’s doing things, and the way we are organizationally doing things. The jury’s still out on that.”

In addition to continued production from sophomores like Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki, the Chiefs also need to see young players emerge from the reserve ranks in order to sustain success.

Barry Richardson, a third-year player with little game experience prior to 2010, stepped up to start all 16 games last season (15 games at right tackle and one at left tackle). Belcher went from a special teams/sub-package player to a 100-tackle performer.

“I don’t think that there is a position on this football team where there isn’t a need," Pioli said as the team prepares for the 2011 NFL Draft. "Something that I feel strongly about, and Todd (Haley) feels strongly about, is the mentality that  it doesn’t matter who you have at any position, you have needs and you have to fill those needs."

Needs will be addressed in less than two weeks. There will be another swing whenever free agency opens as well.

Until then, Jackson may top the list of in-house names that the Chiefs are counting on for further development. Continued success hinges on continued progress of Kansas City’s younger veterans.

Among last year's playoff teams, the Chiefs were among the NFL’s least experienced. That’s likely to hold true if the Chiefs are to make a playoff return next season.

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