Chiefs defense readies for Falcons with several starters in question

Posted Sep 4, 2012

Reserves take ‘next man up’ mentality

The Chiefs will be without at least one defensive starter, maybe more, against the Falcons high-flying offense in Sunday’s regular season opener at Arrowhead Stadium.

Pro Bowl pass rusher Tamba Hali will be serving a one-game suspension against Atlanta for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and the status of several other key defenders is in question as well.

Including Hali, the Chiefs began preparations for Atlanta with five defensive starters on the sideline Monday afternoon.

Hali and fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson didn’t’ practice on Labor Day. Neither did nose tackle Anthony Toribio or safety Kendrick Lewis. Cornerback Brandon Flowers was limited and hasn’t fully participated in a practice since injuring his foot in a training camp on July 31st.

“You can never predict injuries,” Flowers said. “I definitely wanted to get back out there sooner during the preseason, but I didn’t.”

Flowers declined to discuss the specifics of his foot injury and Johnson took the same approach regarding the ankle he injured last week at Green Bay.

“The plan is to get back on Sunday,” Johnson said. “I’m a ballplayer so it’s going to be hard to sit this one out. If I can see progress every day and if I suit up on Sunday that means I’m ready to go.”

Inside linebackers Brandon Siler and Cory Greenwood are preparing for heightened roles if Johnson can’t play.

Regardless of who suits up and who doesn’t, Kansas City’s defense won’t be at full strength when Atlanta arrives.

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said on Monday that he believes this year’s Falcons squad is the most talented group he’s been associated with since arriving in Atlanta seven seasons ago. The Falcons return as many as 18 starters from last year’s playoff team and pack a roster full of firepower at offensive skill positions.

“Obviously they’re a great team and have done some big things in the last couple of years and have a lot great players,” said Andy Studebaker, who is one of several reserve outside linebackers expected to see an increased workload in Hali’s absence. “But you know, so do we. We’ve been working hard all of camp. We’ve known that they were coming this entire time and I think we’re going to be prepared and we’re going to be ready for them.”

The void that Hali’s suspension leaves in Kansas City’s pass rush only widens if the secondary isn’t at full strength.

Second-year pro Jalil Brown started the first three preseason games in place of Flowers, but is dealing with a groin injury that kept him out of the preseason finale. Veteran Jacques Reeves, who left football in 2010 to care for his sick mother, is in line to start Sunday’s game if Flowers and Brown remain sidelined.

“It goes hand-in-hand. The better pressure you can get on the quarterback, the better chance that the coverage can do a good job,” head coach Romeo Crennel said. “When you talk about pressure on the quarterback, that’s not sacks all the time.

“If you can get the guy off the spot and destroy the timing or knock a ball down. Those things like that, if you can just collapse the pocket and make the quarterback feel the pocket closing in, now, he gets the ball out maybe quicker than he wanted to. All those things impact the quarterback.”

Replacing Hali’s impact won’t come easy, but Edgar Jones and Cameron Sheffield displayed ability to get after the quarterback during the preseason. Still, Hali has paced the Chiefs in sacks five of his six seasons with the team tallying 53.5 sacks in 95 career games.

The rest of Kansas City’s outside linebackers – Studebaker, Sheffield, Jones and Justin Houston – combine for 9.5 career sacks.

“I think that other guys have to step up and they have to be relentless,” Crennel said. “Like Eric Berry, he’s going to be relentless with or without Tamba. I think other guys will have to play the same way. Tyson Jackson, he plays his game. Glenn Dorsey will play his game. It’s the young guys that you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get from this scenario.”

One of those young players is first-round draft pick Dontari Poe, who could be in line to start on opening day should Toribio remain out of action. The other candidate at nose tackle is Jerrell Powe, who played just seven snaps as a rookie last season.

“It just means more guys have to step up, myself included,” Poe said. “That’s part of this game – people get hurt, people get injured.”

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