Perhaps the best part of the Chiefs’ first padded practice is the one-on-one pass-rush battles between the offensive and defensive lines.
After months of lifting and technical work, it’s the first chance for players on both side of the ball to really measures themselves against their counterparts.
One player whose offseason work was reflected in these drills was defensive lineman Jaye Howard, who says he put on 20 pounds of muscle this offseason and now checks in at 330 pounds.
“My strong point is quickness, so this offseason I had the mind-set that I had to get stronger, gotta play the run more, hold up at the point of attack,” Howard said. “I stayed up here with (strength) coach (Barry) Rubin and he got me strong, put on weight and a lot of muscle.”
The 6-foot-3 Howard, who is listed at 301 pounds and said he weighed 310 “on a good day” last season, also won a one-on-one battle with center Eric Kush by using his quickness, which was his primary weapon last season, when he did his best work as a gap penetrator and recorded 36 tackles and a sack.
“Man, my game is getting off the ball,” said Howard, who also blew up a play during an inside running drill with his combination of power and speed. “So that’s what I did.”
Kush noticed Howard’s work this offseason.
“Yeah, Jaye’s a strong dude,” Kush said. “It looks like he put some work in. He’s a strong dude but he’s also quick. He looks like he’s going to be a big hole plugger, but he’s got some moves, too, so you’ve got to be ready, especially on one-on-ones.
“He’ll shoot (the gap) on you and you’ve got to be ready to stop that bull rush or be ready to keep your feet moving. So you’ve got to find that balance between preparing for the bull rush or keeping light on your feet, ready to move.”
If Howard can make opponents feel the same way, it will go a long way toward helping the Chiefs replace nose tackle Dontari Poe, whose return date is uncertain following offseason back surgery for a herniated disk.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Howard, who lined up at nose tackle with the first string on Monday, will get first crack at the job.
“I’ve got enough respect for him that I don’t want to let it be a drop off,” Howard said of Poe. “And I know I’ve got to go out here with the mentality that there can’t be a drop off.”
That said, Howard — who looks to his twin sons for motivation and is entering the final year of his four-year rookie deal — is optimistic about kind of season he could have in a contract year.
“Oh course, man,” Howard said. “I’m married. I’ve got twins. I’ve got to bring it this year. I’d love to be back here if it works out.”