ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – When Dee Ford was asked what excited him most about the Kansas City Chiefs defense, the fifth-year linebacker could have talked about finally being healthy or an influx of new young players.
Instead, the first thing that came to mind was the revamped coaching staff.
Ford hardly meant that as a slight to Garry Gibbs, the longtime linebackers coach who was let go after the Kansas City defense folded like a lawn chair in the playoffs. Rather it spoke volumes about the benefits that came with coach Andy Reid separating one position into two: Mike Smith was promoted to outside linebackers coach and Mark DeLeone was promoted to inside linebackers coach.
"I'm very happy for a lot of young coaches that have an opportunity now," said Ford, who enters the final year of his rookie deal trying to recapture what once made him a first-round draft pick.
"We brought in some great guys," he said, "and some new faces in new positions."
The decision to restructure defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's staff was in response to the way linebackers are used in the modern NFL. There is very little in common between outside linebackers and inside linebackers these days, and the increased use of hybrid linebackers – essentially safeties that have moved into the box – adds another layer of complexity to the defense.
The way they rush the quarterback is different. Same with the way they drop into coverage or stop the run. And one of the inside linebackers carries the headset connecting him to the coaches; that means he's responsible for calling the play and getting everybody in position.
"That's a big position to just have one person doing, so we did split it up and it seems to be working fine," Reid said. "They've been able to get more individual work, more film study, specific to their positions, and they're completely different positions."
Especially in the 3-4 defensive scheme.
"When you have both of (the linebackers) in the same room and you're talking about inside, what are the outside guys doing?" Smith asked. "Now you're talking about pass rushes, so in a 3-4 you have to separate them. ... You just get to focus on those guys and you really get to dive in deep."
It's especially helpful this season, when the Chiefs are trying to rebuild a linebacker corps without Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali for the first time in years. Newcomers such as Anthony Hitchens and rookies Breeland Speaks and Dorian O'Daniel get more one-on-one time with the coaching staff, allowing them to get up to speed much more quickly.
The Redskins and 49ers have similar setups on their coaching staffs, and new Titans coach Mike Vrabel brought in Tyrone McKenzie to coach inside linebackers and Shane Bowen to work with the outside linebackers when he was hired this past offseason.
Joey Porter handles the outside for the Steelers and Jerry Olsavsky handles the inside.
"It's great because we have somebody who keys in on the things we're going to do at practice that day," Redskins linebacker Preston Smith said. "We've got a lot of emphasis on a lot of technique we need to work on throughout the day, and on the plays we're going to run and the footwork and the things it takes as an outside linebacker. It's kind of hard for an inside linebacker coach."
Packers associate head coach Winston Moss handles outside linebackers and Patrick Graham doubles as inside coach and run game defensive coordinator. A few other teams have a quality control coach lending a hand. But the majority of teams still rely on a single linebackers coach.
"It's great just to have an outside linebackers coach," said Justin Houston, now the elder statesman of the Chiefs' corps. "There's so much we get to do now just focusing on ourselves and the little things we need to work on. I think last year, we had a lot going on. You have to coach a lot of guys, inside and out. It's hard to do that in the little bit of time you have. Now you have a separate coach, we can just focus on one thing: that's us."
Notes: DT Derrick Nnadi left on a cart late in Wednesday's practice with an elbow injury. WR Marcus Kemp hurt his ankle. ... ILB Reggie Ragland (knee) and RB Charcandrick West (concussion) were not on the practice field. ... ILB Otha Peters practiced for the first time since signing a contract Tuesday. He was wearing No. 52.