In Mike DeVito’s mind, it was simply not good enough to simply come back from the season-ending Achilles’ tear he suffered last September — he was determined to come back better.
And that’s exactly what DeVito, 31, has done, if you believe defensive-line coach Tommy Brasher.
“I tell you, Mike DeVito is probably the most-improved pass rusher on the team,” Brasher said.
DeVito, a nine-year veteran, has survived in the NFL because of a combination of grit and leg power that allowed him to carve out a niche as a stout run stopper. And that’s precisely why the Chiefs missed him last year, when their run defense dropped from 22th in 2013 to 28th.
But players aren’t perfect, and for as good as DeVito was a run stopper, he’s logged only 2 1/2 sacks in his career.
“He never really thought he was a pass rusher, (but) the way the game has changed so much … I talked to him about it and we discussed the fact he needs to learn to rush the passer to last in this game,” Brasher said. “He’s the kind of guy that’s going to do what needs to do.”
But the message apparently hit home for DeVito, who has not only regained most of his strength against the run, but has also earned some looks as an interior rusher in nickel subpackages during the Chiefs’ first two preseason games.
“Even when teams are in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) nowadays, they’re throwing the ball,” DeVito said. “So, one, you have to be able to stop the run in those light boxes, and two, you got to be able to rush the passer. And we know that and it’s something that’s been a focus for all of us upfront.
“We know we can stop the run, so now we need to make sure we’re working on our pass rush.”
DeVito took some steps toward becoming an improved pass rusher last season, at least before his injury. The Chiefs’ devastating 45-44 playoff loss to Indianapolis during the 2013 season — in which DeVito was relegated to only nine snaps because of the Colts’ heavy reliance on three-wide looks — hammered the point home.
“He’s such a diligent guy — he works at his craft very hard,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “And I think one of the real strengths of good players are they’re not afraid to attack their perceived weakness, and he attacks it hard and he jumps in as many times as he possible can in the one-on-one rushes.
“He’s gonna hog every one of them if he can. You have to appreciate that, especially from a veteran player like Mike.”
After the Achilles’ tear, DeVito said he knew he had to focus on the little things to, at the very least, return to what he was beforehand.
“You end up really focusing on your diet, really focusing on your flexibility, things like that, because that’s how you’re going to get back better,” DeVito said. “It’s a testament to (head athletic trainer) Rick (Burkholder) and (assistant trainer) Aaron (Borgmann) and the training staff in there.
“They really helped me to get my running form down, things that I normally wouldn’t focus on in the offseason and that’s made a big difference. My speed feels great. I feel great with my quickness, my speed, my agility, all that stuff has come back better.”
That stuff, DeVito said, has allowed him to hone a few things in his pass-rush repertoire — like his nifty little rip move — which is all based off his bull rush.
“What happens is with the power, you get guys sitting firm on you and now you can work quick hop moves inside and out, because they’re waiting for you to bring it down the middle, they’re leaning a little bit, you can catch them leaning, kind of work their edges a little bit easier,” DeVito said. “So, that bull rush sets up all your other pass rushes.”
And while he won’t be a double-digit sack guy any time soon, his improvement as a pass rusher — he says five sacks is a great goal for an interior lineman to shoot for — is a boon for the defense in situations where offense uses might have passing personnel on the field, but could easily run the ball due to down and distance.
“A lot of times you put quicker, faster D-linemen in to rush the passer, and sometimes that can be a more difficult thing in the run,” Sutton said. “That’s just the nature of the beast. To have a guy that can go in and, based on who we’re playing and the situation, be a nickel run defender and also rusher is really a plus for us.”