With no obvious need, Chiefs hold key to rest of first round

Never mind the fuss over whether the St. Louis Rams or another team chooses Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford at the very top of the NFL draft.

Forget about trying to determine the order in which the dynamic defensive tackle duo of Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy will be taken with the ensuing two spots.

All three, followed by Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, comprise the presumptive top four choices Thursday night.

Where the mystery seemingly begins is with the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 5. Analysts have no consensus here because the Chiefs have no single obvious need. They were bad in so many places last year that almost any position they address will likely make sense.

The thing is, there are varying degrees of ineptitude, and the Chiefs' greatest problems were on defense. They hired the well-respected Romeo Crennel as their defensive coordinator to help correct that. Their offense also has a new high-profile coordinator in Charlie Weis, but it was their defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season, five spots lower than the offense. And it is their defense that's undergoing a more significant philosophical change.

Last year, the Chiefs took an intermediate step in switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 scheme. They did so primarily because their defensive holdovers were originally selected to play the 4-3, and a wholesale change would very likely have produced even worse results.

In 2008, the Chiefs used their top pick -- also fifth overall -- on 4-3 defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Last year, the first with Scott Pioli as their general manager and Todd Haley as their coach, they used their first two choices on defensive ends: third-overall-pick Tyson Jackson and third-rounder Alex Magee.

There has been some speculation that the Chiefs will go with an offensive tackle, such as Oklahoma's Trent Williams or Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, on the theory that they need to do something (beyond hiring Weis) to get better production from quarterback Matt Cassel. It's easy to see the wisdom in that.

However, it's easier to find logic in the Chiefs using their first-round pick, as well as other choices, to address a defense that is now taking a full plunge into the 3-4 and needs to give the team a chance to at least become more competitive. For instance, Alabama's Rolando McClain, an inside linebacker seen as perfectly suited for the 3-4, would seem to be a solid pick at No. 5, even though many analysts view him as a player to be taken in the middle of the first round.

Another name tossed around in connection with the Chiefs' first-round choice is Tennessee safety Eric Berry, who is viewed as a legitimate top-five talent and, therefore, a best-available-player possibility that would fill a gaping hole in Kansas City's secondary.

Suh and McCoy are the only defensive linemen universally touted as top-five material, and it doesn't seem likely that either is going to slip to the Chiefs. If one did, Pioli's job would be made much easier. Otherwise, he faces a stiff challenge finding the right parts that allow the team to take full advantage of Crennel's ample coaching skills, which he demonstrated when he was New England's defensive coordinator and Pioli was overseeing the team's player-personnel department.

Even though a growing number of teams use the 3-4, they don't all play it the same way. Crennel's version, which has roots that go back to when he was an assistant coach with Bill Belichick on Bill Parcells' New York Giants coaching staff, calls for specific physical prototypes that differ from those of other 3-4 schemes. For instance, Crennel prefers outside linebackers to be larger and more physical than those who play for Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Such players aren't easily found in the draft. The fact that there are more clubs than last year looking for them makes it even harder.

"When (Pioli and Belichick) first got to the Patriots (in 2000), we had the market cornered on the type of 3-4 defensive players we wanted," Pioli said. "Bill Parcells wasn't in the league (after coaching the Jets). Then, it changed."

Parcells, who is Pioli's father-in-law, returned to the NFL (first as coach of the Dallas Cowboys and now in his present capacity as a vice president with the Miami Dolphins). In addition, former Pats defensive coordinator Eric Mangini became a head coach (first with the Jets and later with the Cleveland Browns, replacing Crennel). Even Nick Saban briefly joined the list of decision-makers competing for the same type of 3-4 talent when he became the Dolphins' coach.

"We went from being one or two teams looking for our kind of players to all of a sudden there are six teams looking for the same type of player, which made it a little more difficult to find them," Pioli said.

Besides what they add in the draft, the Chiefs also are going to rely on linemen such as Dorsey, Jackson and McGee, and linebackers such as 2005 first-round pick Derrick Johnson and 2006 first-rounder Tamba Hali (a former 4-3 end) to do what it takes to be good fits in Crennel's defense. Pioli said Hali "actually did a nice job" of converting from end to outside linebacker last season.

Haley, who was on the same coaching staff as Crennel with the Jets, saw great value in having former Chiefs defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast introduce elements of the 3-4 last season.

"Although there are differences, the guys having played a year in it and having a greater understanding of the positions they have to play will be a big help," Haley said. "The coaches have been working really hard on trying to keep as much as we could from last year -- terminology, things like that, so it won't be another dramatic change.

"One of the things I've always liked about Romeo, going back to New York in our Jet days, is that he is a quality, quality coach that knows how to get his point across. And, generally (during offseason workouts), the players are listening when he's talking and I think that's always a good sign."

Cardinals thinking nose tackle?

It's fair to say that, after losing standout linebacker Karlos Dansby and star free safety Antrel Rolle to free agency, the Arizona Cardinals have a simple draft plan: Replenish the defense.

Without going into specifics of what the Cardinals will be doing from Thursday through Saturday, coach Ken Whisenhunt did say the departures of those veterans created opportunities for young players already on the roster and those who will join the team from the draft, and that he and the rest of the organization were ready to handle the transition. That process could be made a little easier to handle if the Cards are able to address needs at inside linebacker and at nose tackle.

The 26th overall pick doesn't give the Cardinals any hope of landing the lone inside linebacker expected to be taken in the first round, McClain. However, it does give them a chance to land a nose tackle. Although Suh or McCoy will be long gone by then, the Cardinals could be looking at one of a few nose tackles (Tennessee's Dan Williams, UCLA's Brian Price and Alabama's Terrence Cody) who fall into the category of either low first-round prospects or players who could be taken in the second round and lower.

Bengals can fill missing piece

This is not to suggest that the Cincinnati Bengals are one player away from being a Super Bowl team. After their lopsided wild-card playoff loss to the New York Jets, the Bengals need to improve in multiple areas if they are to be taken seriously as a contender.

Nevertheless, tight end is a glaring weakness, and the Bengals have a chance to fix it in the draft ... and maybe with their first-round pick, 21st overall.

At least two tight ends are deemed worthy of first-round consideration: Rob Gronkowski of Arizona and Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma.

Both are considered to be the more complete players at the position, showing exceptional skills as receivers and blockers. But both have raised concerns because of physical issues.

Gronkowski's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, denied a report that his client has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that can increase the chances of paralysis. Gronkowski did miss most of the 2009 season after undergoing back surgery that prevented him from participating in workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine. But he performed impressively during his own workout for scouts.

Gresham missed the '09 season after undergoing knee surgery last September, but his recovery has gone well.

What about me?

If Brandon Marshall's $47.5-million contract extension with the Miami Dolphins sets the standard for all NFL wide receivers, how long is it going to take for, say, Houston's Andre Johnson to seek a pay raise?

The argument could be made that Marshall is the best receiver in the league, but equally strong ones could also be made for the likes of Johnson and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.

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