As a lead-in to the Chiefs’ training camp in St. Joseph, which begins when rookies report on July 20, The Star will rank the 10 most interesting position battles.
6. Starting defensive end
When the Chiefs signed former Oakland and Atlanta defensive lineman Vance Walker to a three-year, $13 million contract in March, it seemed obvious that he would be the man expected to replace Tyson Jackson, a sturdy run-stuffer who bolted for Atlanta earlier in free agency.
But if the Chiefs’ defensive-line rotations during organized team activities are any indication, Walker will not be handed the job. He will have to earn it. For the majority of OTAs, fourth-year pro Allen Bailey had most of the first-team reps at the defensive end spot next to nose tackle Dontari Poe and end Mike DeVito.
Bailey, a third-round pick in 2011, has probably earned the chance to hold onto the gig. He’s long had a reputation as a subpar run defender, but according to Pro Football Focus, he posted a positive run-defense grade (plus-3.0) for the first time in his career last season. He also logged the most defensive snaps (453) and hurries of his career (19), with the latter number ranking fourth on the team. What’s more, DeVito’s lack of pass-rush juice last season — which he is trying to rectify — in an increasingly passing-oriented league led to Bailey logging seven more snaps than DeVito last season.
So perhaps it should have been no surprise that Bailey spent the majority of OTAs with the ones, while Walker learned the scheme with the twos. However, the pecking order really stood out when 2013 seventh-round pick Mike Catapano rotated in with the ones instead of Walker early in camp.
Catapano was seen as a developmental guy when he was drafted, and he’s taken his development seriously. After reporting to OTAs last year at 270 pounds, Catapano — an outside linebacker in college — is apparently 297 pounds. The team has long been high on his makeup and pass-rushing ability (he had 19 sacks in college), and now it’s time to see if the added bulk will help him against the run in the trenches. Catapano is betting that it will.
However, it’s safe to assume that the Chiefs did not sign Walker to sit. He will play. He started earning additional first-team reps toward the end of OTAs, and said he’s worked hard to learn every position along the interior. This could be crucial.
Walker, 27, had a reputation as a run stuffer during his three-year run in Atlanta, and Poe, who weighs 340 pounds, logged more than 1,000 snaps last year, seemingly because they couldn’t find a dependable, consistent backup. Walker stands 6 feet 2 and said he weighs 315 pounds, so he has the bulk to contribute when Poe needs a blow.
However, Walker is excited to play alongside Poe, and he might get a chance to do just that, especially in the Chiefs’ nickel and dime defenses. Bailey and Catapano will be in the mix for that duty, as well, but according to PFF, Walker racked up four more quarterback hurries (32) than Poe last season in fewer snaps. Dead serious.
So yes, the battle waged between Walker, Bailey and Catapano throughout training camp figures to be plenty interesting, though the safe money says all three will play.
Next up: Free safety
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.