Heartland Health Training Camp Preview: Nose Tackle

Posted Jul 17, 2012

Three questions surrounding the Chiefs nose tackle position heading into training camp

1) How long will it take Dontari Poe to become a starter?

It didn't take long for Romeo Crennel to outline his expectations for Dontari Poe.

The head coach had Poe on the phone minutes after the Chiefs made him the 11th overall pick in the 2012 Draft in April. And following a quick congratulations, the conversation between Crennel and his newest player turned to the upcoming season.

"You're going to be able to come in here and we're going to give you a great chance to compete," Crennel told Poe. "And I'm looking for you to play on all downs."

Poe has shown flashes of potential during offseason team workouts. But his continued improvement during training camp will determine whether or not he'll man the middle of the defensive line to start the season.

A starting role won't be handed to Poe. During OTAs and minicamp practices, the first rounder has watched the first team defense from the sideline. His snaps primarily came with the second-team or in sub-package work.

The Chiefs were aligned in sub-package for roughly half of the defensive snaps last season, so that bodes well for Poe. But his workload - and the expectations placed on him by Crennel and the defensive coaching staff - will only increase as training camp goes on.

2) Can the nose tackle position generate a pass rush?

As Dontari Poe whizzed by the Chiefs offensive line, Matt Cassel had to be thankful he was wearing a yellow jersey. That jersey - and the "non-contact" rules that come with it - meant Cassel could avoid a high speed collision with the 346-pound rookie defensive lineman that would've resulted in a surefire sack.

The 3-4 defense isn't designed to pad the stats of nose tackles like Poe. But since it was installed, the Chiefs have bucked that trend with defensive linemen that can sack the passer while simultaneously eating up blocks for the linebackers behind them.

A breakout 2010 season by Wallace Gilberry proved that linemen don't have to do all the dirty work in the Chiefs' 3-4 defense. During that season, Gilberry notched seven sacks and two forced fumbles--numbers that some 4-3 defensive ends can't rival.

This season, Poe might be the player charged with replacing that output. And based on his game film from Memphis, Crennel thinks Poe can be just the player he needs to generate pressure.

"I've seen that on his college tape for sure," said Crennel. "Even though he didn't get the sacks and stuff like that, he was able to get in the pocket and make the guy move."

The Chiefs want Poe and the other nose tackles to do just that for the Chiefs. The position won't need to tally sacks, but the defense will benefit if they can generate pressure and collapse the pocket. And quarterbacks won't have space to step up as Tamba Hali and Justin Houston crash the ends.

When that happens, opposing quarterbacks won't have a yellow jersey to save them from contact.

3) What other players are vying for the starting job?

First round picks are drafted to start right away, but don't tell that to Anthony Torbio.

The second-year defensive lineman kept Dontari Poe and the other nose tackles at bay during mandatory minicamp in June. No other nose tackle took more snaps with the first team in its base defense than Torbio did, and accordingly, he is in the mix of defensive linemen that have the required skills to crack the opening day roster in September.

Six-year veteran Amon Gordon brings versatility to the group. At just over 300 pounds, Gordon doesn't have the typical prototypical nose tackle size, but has above-average speed that allows him to line up anywhere on the Chiefs defensive line.

"That's the ideal player you'd like to have," said defensive line coach Anthony Pleasant of Gordon. "A guy like Amon is athletic and has that type of ability to rush the passer and play the run."

Jerrell Powe, last year's sixth-round pick, is less versatile. But the second-year player out of Mississippi has the size (331 lbs.) that Romeo Crennel typically looks for in his nose tackles, and he continued to improve throughout offseason workouts.

Torbio, Gordon, and Powe each bring something different to the middle of the Chiefs defense. Poe was selected to be in that spot for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't mean he's guaranteed to be there against the Falcons in Week One.

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