Uncertainty runs amuck within the Kansas City Chiefs defense at the OLB position.
The most important position in the 3-4 defense.
The number one mission of a defense is to disrupt the play of the opposing team's quarterback. That's the easiest way to obtain victory. In a 3-4 defense, that responsibility falls mostly on the backs of two players - the 2 OLB's (with a splash of Wallace Gilberry). A good goal for any NFL defense is 40 sacks in a season (Chiefs finished 2010 with 39, good for 10th in the NFL). In an ideal world, you want your two starting OLB's racking up 20-25 of those sacks (Tamba tallied 14.5 last year, while Vrabel put up a goose egg - that's right, 0 sacks). This amounts to anywhere from 50-62% of the pass rush's production. That's a lot of...PRESSURE on two individuals (see what I did there?).
Lets first take a look at what the Chiefs have at OLB, and see why the position is in such disarray right now...
*Tamba Hali - Currently franchised and we're really not sure how happy he is about it (hasn't signed his tender yet). Hopefully, there isn't any kind of holdout in his future plans. There's no reason to fret until August 4th, which is the first day he could actually practice with the team. However, if we haven't heard from him come August 5th, it's time to panic.
*Andy Studebaker - Could be THE key to the Chiefs defense this season. Along with Tyson Jackson, Studebaker is 1 of 2 relatively unknowns projected as starters right now. We've seen flashes from 'Bakes before (3 sacks last season), but nothing that would significantly indicate how he'll perform as a starter this season.
*Justin Houston - Despite rumors that the Chiefs have placed Houston on the Mentally Unable to Perform (MUP) List, nobody knows for sure what's going on with the Chiefs 3rd round draft choice. He's MIA. My best guess is that he's serving some sort of disciplinary action right now due to his failed drug test from the NFL Combine. Whatever the story is, I'm writing off Houston for the season as of now, because the practices he's missing right now are crucial for a rookie.
*Cameron Sheffield - A 2010 5th round pick that we know absolutely nothing about. He missed all of last season after sustaining a neck injury in a preseason game. While the team hopes he can provide something this year, he certainly cannot be counted on.
That's it, that's the list. There are question marks up and down the Chiefs current depth chart of Outside Linebackers. This isn't a position you can take for granted and/or go into the regular season shorthanded. I think it's absolutely necessary for the Chiefs to add somebody off the Free Agent market. There are 3 names that jump out, and outside of these names, I'm not sure where else help could come from.
*Tully Banta-Cain - Seems the most likely choice because of his history with Scott Pioli in New England. After 2 horrible seasons in San Francisco, he's put up 14.5 sacks over the last 2 seasons with the Patriots. Seems like a perfect fit, however the word on the street is that injuries played a role in his release from New England this offseason (despite playing in 31 of 32 games the last 2 years).
*Matt Roth - Discussed him before in my 10 Free Agents for the Chiefs to Pursue article. Despite never putting up more than 5 sacks in any season, Roth has good QB pressure numbers and is stout against the run. While that doesn't necessarily sell me on him either, the good people at ProFootballFocus.com have him rated highly.
*Manny Lawson - Stay on that same link, and you'll see this name appear 2 spots lower than Roth's. Lawson isn't a premier pass rusher (6.5 sacks in 2009, 3 in both 2008 & 2010), but is considered a good run defender. It should be noted that he was oftentimes taken off the field on 3rd downs in 2010, leading to his dip in sacks (but a sign of his pass rushing shortcomings).
I've been chirping the importance of the 3-4 outside linebacker for the past 2 years now, and am a big proponent of adding 1 of these 3 names to the long list of question marks the Chiefs currently have at the position. If I had to put money on it, I'm betting that Tully Banta-Cain ends up a Chief in 2011.