KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs are so thin at outside linebacker during the first week of offseason practice that starter Dee Ford has to get occasional double duty by taking some snaps with the second and third teams.
The Chiefs, for the time being at least, have just three outside linebackers on their practice field: Ford, veteran backup Frank Zombo and developmental player Earl Okine. The other outside linebackers are either skipping the voluntary workouts (Justin Houston) or injured (Tamba Hali, Dadi Nicolas and Tourek Williams).
So Ford, Zombo and Okine are getting plenty of work this week. That’s not a disaster in May, when the practice sessions, conducted without pads, are far from serious.
But it raises the question of whether the Chiefs did enough to fortify themselves in the offseason at a couple of most important positions. The Chiefs are hopeful of dramatically improving what by sack stats was one of the NFL’s worst pass rushes last season.
Judging by the lineup they’re fielding at offseason practice, the Chiefs aren’t off to a great start there.
Things will improve dramatically when Houston arrives, presumably at training camp in July. He generally keeps himself in immaculate shape so the worry with him is not that he’ll be ready to go then.
It’s that he’s missed a significant portion of the season in three of the past four years because of injuries. Houston is due to have a full and productive season, but the Chiefs can’t count on it.
Otherwise, Hali is 33. His ailing knees have made him at most a part-time player. Nicolas injured his knee in the final regular season game last year, making his healthy return questionable for early in the season. Williams, mostly a backup in three seasons with the Chargers before recently joining the Chiefs, left practice on Tuesday with an injury the Chiefs have yet to explain. It doesn’t look to be of the long-term variety.
When the season begins, the Chiefs will go with Ford and Houston as the starters. Hali, Zombo and perhaps one other player, most likely Williams, would be the backups.
On paper, that looks like a solid plan. On the field, it may look like something different. It certainly looks different on the field from an early vantage point in May.