Ultimately, KC Kingdom is a site for fans. As writers for this site, we are, first and foremost, fans. Sometimes it is nice just to put aside news and detailed statistical analysis, and just state an opinion. When I do this, it is usually just to sort my thoughts out on whatever topic has been nagging on my brain of late. Today, I need to just sort out my opinion about Dontari Poe.
I am not going to focus just on the stats but on what I have witnessed by watching each and every Chiefs game last season, as hard as it was. I watch football differently than I used to, at least I watch the Chiefs differently. I used to just watch the games, all games, game after game, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Now I watch games much more critically. I will focus my attentions on an individual player or position each series of each Chiefs game, focusing on how a specific player is performing. I spent a lot of time last season watching nose tackle Dontari Poe.
The defensive line is an area Kansas City has struggled to develop for a long time. When Chiefs took Poe with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, you could see why the Chiefs liked him. He was big – 6’3 1/2″, 350 pounds. Scouting reports pointed out the combination of his size, quickness, and mobility. Those same reports mentioned things like his upper body strength needed improvement (what lineman, on either side of the ball, can this not be said of), and that he could be handled by a single blocker. The hope was that a great defensive minded coach like former Head Coach Romeo Crennel would be able to improve his weaknesses while at the same time taking advantage of his size and athleticism. Alas, that wasn’t the case.
Early on in the season, I thought Poe was a nonentity. He never seemed to be doing anything. Often times, he was being manhandled by a single blocker and wasn’t getting any pressure on the quarterback and not pursuing any runners. He was just taking up space. A look at his game logs proved my observations were correct. In the first 11 games of the season, Poe only tallied 15 solo tackles and assisted on 7 others. While an interior lineman cannot be judged on stats alone, these are not impressive numbers. In his last 5 games, however, Poe definitely showed an improvement with 13 solo stops and 3 assists. His solo tackles for those last 5 games nearly matched the those of the first 11.
While watching the games, I noted early on the Poe was being blocked, and removed from the play, by one blocker. A great nose tackle is not defined by just his tackle numbers. A great nose tackle has to occupy space in the middle. He needs to force the opposition to rush away from the middle of the field. The interior tackle also has to apply pressure to the pocket. He needs to force the quarterback into the outside pass rush. Few tackles rack up great sack numbers; it just isn’t the nature of the beast. They can, and should though, wreak havoc in the middle of the field. We just didn’t see that for most of the season. If you are only occupying one blocker, that means another blocker is available to pick up the pass rush. Poe was starting to get to the point where he could be a presence on defense toward the end of the season.
Do not get me wrong, Poe is nowhere near being any kind of a dominating player on defense. If he is only being blocked by one guy, he needs to learn to shed that blocker quicker and pick up his pursuit. He needs to make the defense use two blockers to account for him, hopefully to free up the ends and rush line backers on the edge. He needs to get off the ball quicker, apply some pressure to the quarterback. He doesn’t have to record the sack, just flush the QB out of his comfort zone just a bit.
I am not ready to call Dontari Poe a bust. He is a very hard worker and he is hustling on every play. With increased strength and knowledge of his position at the NFL level, he very easily could take the next, much needed, step forward in 2013. It will be interesting to see if he will get any snaps at defensive end during camp of the exhibition games. With his quickness and athletic ability, he would be a load at that position if he could get into the backfield. Poe still has upside and I saw, with my own eyes, progress from him as the season went on. His tackle numbers indicate an increase in production as well. Poe can still be an above average defensive lineman. I’m not ready to give up on him as a fan. I know that marked improvement from him this season would really help out his defensive teammates. I’m willing to wait for Poe to improve; he could be worth the wait.
That’s just my opinion.