Nico Johnson Should Help the Chiefs' Run Defense
By Eric Paolini
The closest competition for a starting job with the Chiefs has cooled a bit. The battle was for the second middle linebacker spot next to Derrick Johnson and it was between veteran Akeem Jordan and rookie Nico Johnson. Both linebackers feature different talents that could the Chiefs defense could use.
The Chiefs defense had a rough time last season. Their whole season as a whole was rough, to be perfectly honest. But one aspect in which they struggled, the one with which Johnson could help, is run defense. Only a handful of teams faced the run more than the Chiefs (partly due to the opponent being constantly ahead) in 2012, and Kansas City was in the NFL’s bottom five in rushing yards allowed and in the bottom six in yards allowed per attempt 4.8.
Johnson was drafted in April in the fourth round out of Alabama. He played the 3-4 defense for the Crimson Tide, which happens Kansas City’s current scheme. That should help his transition from college to the pros. He won't be asked to do something he won't be ready for. Jordan should be able to help with that.
Jordan has never played under a coach other than Andy Reid. Jordan spent his first six NFL seasons in Philadelphia with Reid. Now in Kansas City, and having to deal with a different defense, Jordan has turned out to be a yin to Johnson’s yang. Jordan has effective pass defense skills that Johnson does not.
Johnson's biggest strength is when he is used in the run defense. He could be the stopper in the second line that the Chiefs need. Thanks to Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, the Chiefs have pass rushers on the outside.
Ideally, the Chiefs could mix and match Jordan and Johnson to suit the situation. It would allow Johnson to work his way into the league a bit more slowly and not have too much asked of him. In the meantime, we'll have to wait and see how the Chiefs will use this linebacker tandem. Johnson, who recently sprained his ankle, and is currently using a walking boot. The severity of his injury is unknown at this point, so it's impossible to predict when he can get back onto the field. He did not play in the Chiefs’ preseason finale.
With or without Johnson, the Chiefs run defense should be an improved this season. They have talent on defense, especially among the linebackers. Derrick Johnson, Hali, and Houston have made five combined Pro Bowls in the past two seasons. But Nico Johnson could be an improvement to the current corps. Some of their woes against the opposition’s offense should be minimized simply by the new coaching staff. But when Nico Johnson gets back, he could be a difference- maker.