There may not be a more physically-gifted defensive lineman in the NFL than the Kansas City Chiefs’
At 6-foot-3, 346 pounds, the combination of size, strength, quickness and ability isn’t a secret to people who have played against him, or to most fans after Poe was named a Pro Bowler last season, just his second in the NFL.
As a 3-4 nose guard in a base defense, Poe is asked to manhandle the middle of the defensive line, the center of the “trench.” The brute strength needed to effectively play the run at this position, combined with the understanding of hand positioning, leverage and balance makes for a rare player who can excel at this spot.
This position of a run-stuffing monster in the middle was more prevalent in the NFL years ago, mainly from a play-count standpoint, before offenses really started spreading defenses out in predominantly 11-personnel groupings.
As offenses began to spread defenses out (3 WR sets), the need for defensive linemen who could move laterally and offer some pass rush became more important.
Consequently, the guys who normally offer the ability to play nose guard don’t also typically possess the ability to get after the quarterback in nickel and dime sub defenses.
When offenses bring out a third receiver, oftentimes defenses will counter by bringing on a defensive back and removing a defensive lineman.
But in Poe’s case—he doesn’t come off the field.
With 33 quarterback hurries last season, Poe showed he can be a factor in the pass-rushing department.
“He’s a unique individual because most big men that play nose guard in base really don’t make it to sub very often,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “That’s really a tribute to his athleticism and a year ago, he made a strong commitment to really change himself. He got in great condition and came back about 20 pounds down.”
The scheme change from Poe’s rookie season in 2012 to last season under Sutton made a difference, equating to less two-gapping and more penetration.
This change in scheme was something Poe enjoyed.
“Loved it, loved it,” Poe said with a smile. “Just let me be me man. Just let me play football the best I can, not holding me down with too many restrictions. Just let me make as many plays as I can.”
In just his second year, Poe had the governor removed from his athletically-elite engine and the football-watching world saw the performance of the machine.
This machine never seemed to slow down either. Poe was the only interior defensive lineman in the NFL to play at least 1,000 snaps last season, staying on the field for 93.7 percent of the Chiefs defensive snaps, not including the game he sat out against the San Diego Chargers.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid praised Poe’s snap count and desire to stay on the field, but also his work ethic in preparing for this upcoming season.
“That’s unusual, especially for a big man,” Reid said. “He came out here and did his conditioning test. He was one of the first guys. He was right up in front of the line on that.
“If you watch him in practice, he wants to take every snap. You have to drag him out of there. In games, you have to just about fight him to get out of the game. He’s got pass-rush ability. He can stop the run. He’s quite a talent and he works hard.”
The problems he creates for offensive lines in dealing with him as an individual are substantial, but besides just that, he also opens things up for his teammates.
“With a one-on-one protection deal there, he can cause you some problems,” Sutton said. “When Poe is pushing the pocket—that shrinks the edges and there’s nowhere for the quarterback to step up.
“If you’re dealing with Tamba (Hali) and Justin (Houston) on the edges and your plan as a quarterback is ‘Hey I’m going to step up and help my tackles,’ he can squeeze and push that pocket back. That makes that a little more difficult which puts more pressure on the tackles on offense to protect, and that certainly helps Tamba and Justin coming on the edge.”
Having a player like Poe can change how you game plan as an entire defense, Sutton explains.
“You have your system but then within your system you try to analyze what our players really do well,” Sutton said. “You try to highlight their strengths and limit their weaknesses. He’s got some unique abilities and we can do things with him and he can cause individual problems.
“So our goal is to try to get some plays and defenses that allow him a chance to make plays because he’s a hard guy to handle,” Sutton said. “He’s a big man that’s explosive. Centers have a hard time with him so sometimes the guards have to get involved and we can hopefully take advantage as two of them get involved on him.”
As an elite, athletic machine, Poe had nine games where he missed two snaps or less on defense, including five games where he played every snap.
But heading into 2014, Sutton said there may be times they can give him a break this season, citing the deep talent along the entire defensive line this season.
“I think we’ll have some different packages maybe where we can give him a little bit of a break and keep him fresh for the entire year,” Sutton said.
Meanwhile, this is Poe’s second year in Sutton’s scheme, and knowing what to expect heading into training camp, both from a scheme and teammate standpoint, is something Poe believes should help.
“My teammates being with me and around me make me feel comfortable and I hope I do the same for them,” Poe said. “I think it’s real good—the camaraderie we have and just us playing together.”
As Poe continues to explode onto the NFL scene with his all-around abilities, that doesn’t change the approach to his own work, or how he sees himself in a leadership role.
“I’ve never been too much of a vocal guy but throughout my career I kind of have been leading by example,” Poe said. “I feel like if you do the right things [and] the young guys see it, they’ll pick up on it and do it as well. As long as you’re doing it, as long as you’re running around and as long as you got energy, they really can’t do anything but do the same thing.”
As Poe prepared for this upcoming season, he knew what he needed to do to get his body prepared and how important his strength and conditioning would be to replicate, if not improve upon, his Pro Bowl season in 2013.
“Very important,” Poe said. “You have to maintain your strength doing what I’m doing in the trenches. In the middle of it all, you got a lot of people pushing on you [and] a lot of double teams coming so you just got to maintain your strength and for me it’s just a mental thing.
“Never ease up. Because I feel like once your start easing up, there’s no stopping to it. So, everything I do I try to go in head first and just do the best I can with it.”
When some players receive notoriety for their abilities, things change. They buy into the hype from their past accomplishments and it affects their ability to do it again.
Reid was pleased that after an offseason of such praise and awards, Poe hasn’t changed.
“He’s coming off some accolades this past year and so you’re curious to see how they handle that,” Reid said. “And he’s come out and he’s kept his work ethic so it’s a good thing.”
After an impressive performance in the Chiefs preseason opener against the Bengals, albeit in limited snaps, Poe was excited to get back to the atmosphere of Arrowhead Stadium and doing what he does best.
“Any time I go out under those lights, it juices me up,” Poe said. “I just get going, man. It’s really not too much of a secret.”