Pre-training camp overview of the Chiefs defense, specialists

Jul 27, 2013; St. Joseph, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) and safety Malcolm Bronson (41) stretch during training camp at Missouri Western State University. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 27, 2013; St. Joseph, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) and safety Malcolm Bronson (41) stretch during training camp at Missouri Western State University. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs currently have a combined 44 defensive players and specialists on the 90-man offseason roster heading into training camp.

While there are questions on offense, especially on the offensive line, arguably the biggest concerns are on defense.

[Related: Pre-training camp overview of offense]

Will two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston, who enters the final year of his contract, hold out? What’s going on at cornerback? Who replaces defensive end Tyson Jackson? How about the free safety position?

Of course, the spotlight falls on Houston when veterans report for camp on July 23.

The fourth-year pro didn’t attend voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) and the three-day mandatory minicamp. By missing minicamp, Houston is subject to a $69,455 fine in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Players under contract are subject to a $30,000 fine per day in training camp for a late reporting or unexcused absence, per the CBA.

“The Houston Watch” begins.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the rest of the roster:

Defensive line (10) Allen Bailey, Mike Catapano, Jermelle Cudjo, Mike DeVito, Dominique Hamilton, Jaye Howard, Kyle Love, Dontari Poe, Kona Schwenke, Vance Walker

The battle front: Poe is a lock at defensive tackle, while DeVito is set to resume his role at right defensive end with Catapano in all likelihood the primary backup to DeVito. The competition comes at left defense end vacated by Tyson Jackson, who signed an offseason free-agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bailey ran with the first-team defensive during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp, and he’s set to have the first shot in training camp. Walker, who signed a three-year deal in March, didn’t see time with the first unit until minicamp as the Chiefs ease him into the scheme. Walker can play outside or inside.

The Chiefs need to determine Poe’s backup at defensive tackle among Walker, Love, Howard, Hamilton, Schwenke and Cudjo. Love and Hamilton are the heaviest, each listed at 315 pounds. For perspective, Poe is the heaviest defensive lineman at 346 pounds.

Injury updates: None.

The skinny: The Chiefs started and finished the 2013 season with seven defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. Of the group, the only turnover came at defensive tackle between Anthony Toribio and Jerrell Powe, who is now with the Houston Texans.

The Chiefs did not have a defensive lineman on the practice squad at the start of the 2013 regular season or the end of the year.

Linebacker (13) Dee Ford, DeRon Furr, Tamba Hali, Alonzo Highsmith, Justin Houston, Ben Johnson, Derrick Johnson, James-Michael Johnson, Nico Johnson, Josh Martin, Joe Mays, Dezman Moses, Frank Zombo

The battle front: Outside linebackers Houston and Hali, and inside linebackers Derrick Johnson and Mays project as the starters. The competition arrives at the backup spots.

Ford, the team’s first-round pick, lined up in Houston’s spot at the left outside position over the right tackle during minicamp. Ford appears set to have the first shot as Houston’s primary backup over Zombo. The rest of the outside linebackers shape out with Moses, Martin and Highsmith.

Nico Johnson, James-Michael Johnson, Ben Johnson and Furr fill out the depth at inside linebackers.

Injury updates: Ben Johnson dealt with a hamstring injury during OTAs and minicamp; James-Michael Johnson, who landed on injured reserve late in the 2013 season with an ankle injury, practiced without limitations during OTAs and minicamp.

The skinny: The Chiefs started the 2013 regular season with nine linebackers on the 53-man roster (Hali, Houston, Derrick Johnson, James-Michael Johnson, Nico Johnson, Akeem Jordan, Martin, Moses and Zombo) and Darin Drakeford on the practice squad.

The Chiefs finished the season with nine on the 53-man roster. Robert James replaced James-Michael Johnson, who was on injured reserve, and Ridge Wilson was on the practice squad. The Chiefs cut ties with James and Wilson during the offseason.

Defensive back (17) Husain Abdullah, Eric Berry, Malcolm Bronson, Sanders Commings, Marcus Cooper, Phillip Gaines, Brandon Jones, Vernon Kearney, Jerron McMillian, Chris Owens, Ron Parker, Justin Rogers, Kevin Rutland, Sean Smith, Daniel Sorensen, David Van Dyke, DeMarcus Van Dyke

The battle front: Berry is the clear starter at strong safety, leaving McMillian and Sorensen to battle for a backup position. Abdullah looked good at free safety during OTAs and minicamp, but Commings will push for playing time at a position left vacant by the departure of Kendrick Lewis, who signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Texans.

But let’s cut to the chase because cornerback headlines the competition. Of the 17 defensive backs currently on the roster, 11 are cornerbacks.

The June 13 release of Brandon Flowers, who signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Chargers, signals change. And the Chiefs must settle matters sooner than later when considering the quarterbacks on the 2014 regular season schedule.

In addition to facing AFC West quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers twice, the Chiefs square off against the AFC East and NFC West.

Meanwhile, Smith, the 2013 starter at right cornerback, ran with the second-team defense the final week of OTAs after being arrested and cited with an alleged DUI on June 9. He missed minicamp with an illness.

Cooper, who started OTAs at left cornerback during Flowers’ absence, moved to right cornerback in place of Smith, while Ron Parker took Cooper’s spot with the first-team defense.

Chris Owens, who signed a free-agent deal in March, played the nickel role until missing time with a hamstring injury. Free safety Malcolm Bronson showed versatility by filling in for Owens.

Third-round pick Phillip Gaines saw time with the second-team defense during team drills.

Of note among the 11 cornerbacks as the Chiefs covet height under the current regime, Rogers (5-11) and Owens (5-9) are the only two listed below 6-0.

Breaking it down by position:

• The cornerbacks are Cooper, Gaines, Jones, Kearney, Owens, Parker, Rogers, Rutland, Smith, David Van Dyke and DeMarcus Van Dyke.

• The free safeties are Abdullah, Bronson and Commings.

• The strong safeties are Berry, McMillian and Sorensen.

Injury updates: Smith missed minicamp with an illness; Owens dealt with a hamstring injury the final week of OTAs, but participated in minicamp; Gaines missed the final day of minicamp with an ankle injury; David Van Dyke missed seven days of OTAs with a hamstring injury and didn’t return to the practice field until minicamp.

The skinny: The Chiefs opened the 2013 season with five cornerbacks on the 53-man roster (Flowers, Cooper, Smith, Parker and Dunta Robinson, whom the Chiefs released in February) and Bronson on the practice squad.

The Chiefs finished the regular season with the same five on the 53-man roster. Kearney joined Bronson as the two defensive backs on the practice squad to close the regular season.

Specialists (4) Dustin Colquitt, Thomas Gafford, Cairo Santos, Ryan Succop

The battle front: The punter position manned by Colquitt and long snapper spot held by Gafford are the two positions on the roster without competition heading into training camp. Tight end Sean McGrath is the team’s backup long snapper.

Meanwhile, Succop faces a challenge from Santos, an undrafted free agent signing with a big leg. Succop and Santos took turns on the final day of minicamp booming indoor field goal attempts from 45 yards and beyond.

Injury updates: None.

The skinny: The Chiefs began and finished the season with Colquitt, Succop and Gafford on the 53-man roster. The Chiefs didn’t have specialists on the practice squad.