| Dorsey (left) will pair up at DE with '09 pick Jackson, his Baton Rouge roomie.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
13 at Baltimore
27 at Philadelphia
4 N.Y. GIANTS
18 at Washington
25 SAN DIEGO
8 at Jacksonville
15 at Oakland
29 at San Diego
27 at Cincinnati
3 at Denver
Branden Albert, Tackle: After being drafted at No. 15 as a guard out of Virginia in 2008 and
then missing all of his first NFL preseason because of a foot injury, it hardly
figured that Albert would start at left tackle for the Chiefs in Week 1 at New
England, play every snap and do better than hold his own against Patriots Pro
Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour. But he did.
At 6' 5", 316, Albert is stout, smart and nimble, the kind of offensive
lineman Kansas City would clone if it could because the line is clearly an area
of concern. Projected starting guards Mike Goff and Brian Waters both have 10 or
more seasons under their belt, so Albert provides youth and promise to a unit
that could use more of both. The Chiefs are banking on him to invigorate running
back Larry Johnson by blowing open a few more holes and to protect the blind
side of the franchise's most valuable asset, new quarterback Matt Cassel. "Last
year I was trying to establish myself," Albert says. "Now I'm trying to become a
leader." He has already taken the first step, defending his linemates against
training-camp criticism and insisting they'll improve as a group this season.
"As a whole, we're going to get better," Albert says. "But it's easy to tell
people that. We've got to prove it."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
The rush is on to shape an LSU-dominated front seven into a unit that pressures the other team, for a change.
Glenn dorsey went to a luncheon in Kansas City this summer expecting
the standard fare: chicken breast, bread roll and all-you-can-eat optimism about
the 2009 season. He wound up with an extra helping of reassurance, delivered
from an unexpected source. Neil Smith approached Dorsey during the event and
told him about a highly touted defensive end from New Orleans who was drafted at
No. 2 by the Chiefs in 1988 but finished his rookie year with just 2 1/2 sacks
for a team that went 4-11-1. The following year K.C. drafted future Hall of
Famer Derrick Thomas. With Thomas monopolizing attention, the end from New
Orleans had 6 1/2 sacks in his second season, and the Chiefs went 8-7-1. The year
after that he racked up 9 1/2 sacks for an 11-5 club.
The subject of the story, of course, was Smith himself. "I used to watch Neil
when I was growing up in Louisiana, and I think he saw that we had some things
in common," says Dorsey. "He wanted me to remember to keep pushing."
The similarities between Smith's background and Dorsey's are startling.
Dorsey was drafted at No. 5 out of LSU last year but finished his rookie season
with only one sack, in part because he never took the time to allow a sprained
knee in training camp to fully heal and started all 16 games. Now that Kansas
City, under first-year coach Todd Haley, is switching to a 3-4, Dorsey is moving
from tackle to end, where he'll play opposite this year's first-round draft pick
out of LSU, Tyson Jackson. No one is comparing Jackson to Thomas, but Jackson is
also a vaunted speed rusher and should not need long to develop into a force
that could free up Dorsey. They were Tigers teammates -- and roommates -- who still
reminisce about taking their recruiting trips to Baton Rouge on the same
The Chiefs have a host of promising defensive linemen, including '06
first-rounder Tamba Hali, '07 second-rounder Turk McBride and '07 third-rounder
Tank Tyler. The shift to a three-man front will move some of them out of their
natural positions. While Dorsey slides from tackle to end, Hali and McBride are
migrating from end to outside linebacker, and tackle Tyler is learning to play
the nose. All must embrace a system in which linemen are often asked to occupy
blockers while linebackers get most of the shots at the quarterback and the
"We have a lot of highly drafted defensive linemen here, but I think we can
use that to our advantage," Tyler says. "We're all talented enough to get
ourselves in a position to make plays."
Something had to change about the K.C. defense after it finished last season
ranked 31st in the NFL and mustered only 10 sacks, lowest for a team since the
league began keeping sack statistics in 1982. There are a lot of reasons the
Chiefs won only two games last year -- inconsistent quarterback play, a dearth of
contributors in their prime, an unhappy Larry Johnson, an inordinate number of
last-minute losses -- but the lack of a pass rush was at or near the top of the
list. "We have to create more havoc in the backfield," says Haley. "It just
has to happen."
Kansas City has undergone a massive makeover. In addition to the new coach
and the new defense, there is a new general manager, Scott Pioli, and a new
quarterback, Matt Cassel, both by way of the Patriots. Haley, the offensive
coordinator in Arizona last season, brought with him defensive coordinator
Clancy Pendergast, a 3-4 proponent. The Chiefs should be better with Cassel (who
might be slowed by an injured knee to start the season), but how much better
really depends on that front seven -- whether all the bonus babies can realize
their potential in the new scheme. "It's going to be a different mind-set,"
Dorsey says, "but I like the change." Playing end, he enjoys more freedom, sees
fewer double teams and, when times get rough, can call on a mentor who was once
in the same spot.
-- Lee Jenkins