Foundation of Chiefs defensive line returns to full strength

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey (97) and Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe (92) celebrate a sack of St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey (97) and Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe (92) celebrate a sack of St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Kansas City’s defensive line will look for improvements in both pass rush and run defense in 2015.

The line accounted for 14 of the team’s 46 sacks in 2014 and gave up an average of 127.3 yards per game, but the return of a key player should help.

The Chiefs currently have 11 defensive linemen on the roster:

1. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe: The Chiefs exercised a fifth-year option on Poe for the 2016 season. Although he is not technically playing in a contract season, it could be a big determining factor in the long-term compensation he receives.

The former first-round pick played 1,007 total snaps in 2014, 1,030 in 2013 and 823 in 2012. It appeared Poe wore down during the second half of each season, which could arguably be attributed to the lack of depth behind him.

Poe, who is listed at 346 pounds, is a unique combination of size, strength and impressive athleticism. Poe, who set a career-high six sacks last year, must be accounted for on every play and can play all three downs. The key for Poe will be seeing a decrease in snaps throughout the season so he can maintain his effectiveness.

2. Defensive end Mike DeVito: The Chiefs run defense took a crucial hit after losing DeVito to an Achilles injury in Week One, and went from 22nd in 2013 down to 28th in 2014.

DeVito was an effective defender in setting the edge on the right side of the defense prior to his injury. Outside linebacker Justin Houston and DeVito provided a combination that forced offense to run between the tackles because the edges were shut down by the defenders.

DeVito is a stout defender who can get underneath the shoulders pads of most offensive linemen and bull rush them into the backfield causing the running backs to flatten out or cutback. DeVito showed no issues from his Achilles injury during spring practices which would be much needed help for the run defense.

3. Defensive end Allen Bailey: The former third-round pick in 2011 has continually progressed over the past four seasons. Bailey, who recorded a career-high five sacks in 2014, has developed into a powerful pass rusher who can disrupt most offensive linemen with his bull rush. He is consistent in holding his edge against the run. The former Miami Hurricane needs to enhance his speed rushes for the 2015 season.

4. Defensive tackle Jaye Howard: The Chiefs list the 6-3, 301-pound Howard at defensive tackle, but he has the versatility to play outside as shown last season in place of DeVito. Howard, who is in a contract year, saw his snaps increase from 53 in 2013 to 444 in 2014 after the loss of DeVito. The former Florida Gator took advantage of the opportunity and was a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage with six tackles. Only Bailey had more with seven. Howard appeared to become comfortable with his increase in snaps during the second half of the season and will attempted to cash in on this season.

5. Defensive end Mike Catapano: The former seventh-round pick showed promise during 2014 spring practices. Catapano, who said at the start of the offseason workout program he’s “a little over 290” pounds, had bulked up from a listed 270. The Princeton alumnus looks like a 3-4 defensive end. A concussion and gastrointestinal virus derailed his 2014 training camp and season before it could even begin, but he had good pop on sleds and appeared to be healthy during recent OTAs and minicamp.

6. Defensive end Vaughn Martin: The former San Diego Charger provides depth to the rotation entering his sixth NFL season. He saw 465 snaps with the Chargers in 2012 and 39 with the Miami Dolphins in 2013. The former Western Ontario alumnus is a stout run defender who does a solid job at maintaining the line of scrimmage and could help in the run defense.

7. Defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches: The sixth-round pick is a penetration defensive tackle and looks to be an effective sub-package gap shooter. Nunez-Roches has good speed to penetrate that gap at 307 pounds, but will need to work his strength to help in run defense.

8. Defensive end David Irving: The undrafted free agent from Iowa State is noticeable on the field and is listed as one of the tallest players on the roster at 6-7. His frame, however, appears very light at 272 pounds. Irving had an impressive wingspan for blocking kicks during spring practices, but will need to bulk up over the next couple of season to have an impact on the defensive line.

9-11. Defensive linemen Jerel Worthy, Nick Williams and Charles Tuaau: All will be pushing for time at the defensive tackle position. One of them will need to prove they have the ability to be effective in relieving Poe during some series this fall. The media has not been able to watch the trio practicing in pads since all were obtained after the 2014 training camp.

Nick Jacobs is a contributing writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @Jacobs71.

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