The Chiefs will be without one of their key defensive cogs for at least a significant portion of training camp.
The team announced Tuesday that Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe — who was plagued by back spasms during organized team activities in June — reinjured his back during the players’ month-long break in July and recently underwent surgery for a herniated disc.
The team does not expect Poe to return until camp breaks — at the earliest — which occurs shortly before the Chiefs’ second preseason game scheduled for Aug. 21 against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I think he stands a reasonable chance to (return) the early part of the season there, whether it’s the beginning or somewhere early in the season,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You just have to see how he recovers there, but it’s a positive thing, and it’s something he needed to get done, as opposed to having that (injury) antagonize him through the season.”
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Poe missed six full OTA practices after being diagnosed with what the club called back spasms on June 2.
Head trainer Rick Burkholder said Poe had an epidural injection in his back on June 5, and Poe eventually returned to the field for the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp June 16-18.
“We rested him, and he made it through the end of minicamp and did fine — was asymptomatic,” Burkholder said. “We got him a second epidural injection on the 19th of June, right before he left. He was (at) home training, he was doing great, and then he hurt his back again.”
Burkholder said Poe hurt his back again on July 8, and was brought back to Kansas City for an MRI, which uncovered his herniated disc. Poe was then sent back to Memphis, where he underwent surgery on July 15.
“He had a successful microdiscectomy surgery — he had that disk removed,” Burkholder said. “He’s in Memphis right now. He’s not doing a whole lot of rehab or treatment. He’s resting, but he’s doing great.”
Burkholder, however, said he expects Poe to report to training camp on Friday at Missouri Western with the rest of the veterans, though he won’t be allowed to practice.
“He’s going to be up here with us on Friday. He’ll have extensive treatment and rehab,” Burkholder said. “I’ve told the coaches that we won’t talk about any more activity with Dontari until after we get out of training camp.
“So for training camp purposes, he’ll be with me, but he’ll be in meetings with all that kind of stuff. He’s doing fine.”
Poe is widely regarded as a strong run stuffer, even though the Chiefs’ run defense fell from 11th in 2013 to 28th last season.
Season-ending injuries to inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito played a role in that, however, and Poe, 24, has been nothing short of a rock in the middle of the Chiefs’ defense. He played an almost absurd amount of snaps the last two years — 1,970 combined — which is 752 more than Allen Bailey, the Chiefs defensive lineman who saw the second-highest number of snaps during that span.
Poe has made the Pro Bowl each year, too, logging a total of 96 combined tackles and 10 1/2 sacks.
Poe’s play did tail off a bit down the stretch a year ago, when he posted a Pro Football Focus grade of minus-6.1 in the last five games, but it’s worth noting that when asked directly Tuesday, Reid said Poe didn’t start having back problems until this summer.
Regardless, Reid said Jaye Howard — who logged 10 starts last year as a replacement for the injured starter DeVito and had 36 combined tackles and a sack in 16 total games — will probably get first crack at replacing Poe.
“Jaye Howard will fill in that spot once everybody gets back here, but the positive is that Dontari is doing well, and we expect him back as we get closer to the beginning of the season,” Reid said.
Reid also noted that DeVito and sixth-round rookie Rakeem Nunez-Roches earned snaps in Poe’s spot during OTAs.