Heartland Health Training Camp Preview: Inside Linebackers

Posted Jul 20, 2012

Three questions surrounding the Chiefs inside linebackers heading into training camp

1) Will All-Pro Derrick Johnson pick up in 2012 where he left off in 2011?

Derrick Johnson can't wait to play behind the new teammate he's heard so much about.

"My guy big Poe can come in and be in the middle of the defense," Johnson said in an interview about his 78th spot in NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2012. "He should help keep those big guys off of me and free me up."

Should Dontari Poe - or anyone else on the Chiefs defense - give Johnson more room to make plays, the eighth-year linebacker could have an even better season this year than he did last season. 

Statistically speaking, Johnson registered one of the best linebacking performances in Chiefs history last season. With 179 tackles, he shredded Mike Maslowski's franchise record for single season stops by 17. 

That alone would've justified Johnson's first career All-Pro selection, Pro Bowl nomination and his spot among the best players on the NFL Network's list. But he also added 2.0 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble to his impressive 2011 resume.

Johnson turned in another stellar season under Romeo Crennel. And this season - Crennel's first as Chiefs head coach - could bring his game to new heights. Poe was drafted to take on multiple offensive linemen, and as Johnson suggested, it'll free him up for even more tackles. And with a revamped rushing attack featuring Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, and Eric Winston, Johnson should have more time in between possessions to rest for the next defensive series.

Johnson knows his success means more team wins. And if besting his 2011 tackling record gets the Chiefs back to the playoffs, Johnson is all for it. 

“I’m trying to have really good games back-to-back and the biggest thing is helping our team win,” Johnson said. “That’s all I care about. I’m just trying to be a part of helping my team win.”

2) What will a healthy Brandon Siler bring to the linebacking corps?

Being the forgotten man in a group of talented linebackers never angered Brandon Siler. But the same can't be said for Siler's frustrating span of missed practices at the beginning of offseason workouts. 

"It’s my job to go out there and do what I do, and I can’t do that right now," said Siler spending the first half of OTAs rehabbing his injured Achilles. "So I shouldn’t be talked about."

Chiefs fans might be talking about Siler soon enough, though. After missing all of 2011, the veteran linebacker is motivated to contribute in any way possible to the 2012 Chiefs.

With Jovan Belcher penciled as the other starting middle linebacker next to Johnson, those duties will almost certainly include special teams play. But Siler provides much more than a solid player on kickoff and punt coverage. 

Siler has experience in the AFC West after playing his first four seasons in San Diego. He also has taken snaps at both inside 'backer spots, making him the ideal candidate backup both Belcher and Johnson if he doesn’t command a starting role. And that experience could provide Belcher with some solid camp competition as the team gets ready for training camp. 

Finally, Siler is healthy enough to show he can contribute this season. 

“I feel great,” Siler said. “I feel great right now. I’m ready to get back out there.”

3) Can another special teams ace emerge from this group?

Jovan Belcher was the latest Chiefs player to earn his starting role through standout special teams play. But if this group plays up to its potential in the third phase of the game, Belcher won't be the last linebacker to make that jump.

Siler has special teams experience dating back to his SEC Freshman of the Year season at Florida. With San Diego, Siler earned a spot on the roster as a clutch tackler and, in case of emergency, the backup long snapper. 

Through his first two NFL seasons, Corey Greenwood has played every game on special teams. In 2010, Greenwood was fourth on the team in special teams tackles and followed that up with a 10-tackle season last year. 

One candidate that could emerge is Leon Williams, who appeared in 11 games for the Dallas Cowboys on special teams in 2010. But Romeo Crennel started Williams in 2007 when the two were with the Cleveland Browns, and that could be enough of a connection to give the five-year veteran a shot at reviving his career.

Being a reserve player in the NFL means playing special teams. And if one of these reserves can excel in that area, it could look good on their resume for a starter's job later down the line.

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