KANSAS CITY, Mo. – NFL quarterbacks setting up in the pocket have a big enough problem worrying about Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali rushing off the edge.
Opposing signal callers could have another defensive player to account for at the line of scrimmage.
“I tell you, Mike DeVito is probably the most improved pass rusher on the team,” Chiefs defensive line coach Tommy Brasher said of the ninth-year defensive end.
Wait. Hold one second.
Does the position coach really believe his declaration on the 31-year-old DeVito, who has 2 ½ sacks in the regular season on his nine-year and is known mostly for his ability to stuff the run? What about DeVito returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon?
“Absolutely,” Brasher said. “It is very impressive.”
For his part, DeVito can’t help but smile when reflecting how far he has come in improving his pass rushing ability since arriving in Kansas City in 2013.
“That’s been in progress these last three years under Tommy Brasher and (assistant defensive line coach) Britt Reid,” DeVito said, “and they’ve really helped me to grow in that area.
“And obviously you see the way the league is changing, the statistics every year about how much teams are playing the three wides, and then spreading the ball out. So, you have to be a pass rusher in the league to stay around. That’s something I really focused on and feel good at.”
DeVito’s willingness to adjust his style of play as an interior lineman drew praise from defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“I give the guy credit, because one, I think when you’re a good player you’re not afraid to attack your perceived weakness and here’s a veteran guy coming off of an Achilles injury,” Sutton said. “And I’m sure you guys have seen in the one-on-one pass rush, he would jump in there every play if he could.”
Meanwhile, Brasher concedes DeVito was never considered a pass rusher.
But the defensive line coach points out the evolution of the NFL in recent years to its current state as a pass-happy league signaled DeVito had to adapt in order to remain on the field.
“The way the game has changed so much with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers),” Brasher said. “I talked to him about it and we discussed the fact he needs to learn to rush the passer to last in this game, and he’s the kind of guy that’s going to do what he needs to do.”
Consider the message received loud and clear.
DeVito said his rehabilitation from the Achilles injury prompted him to focus on “little things,” such as his diet and flexibility.
And he credits head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder and assistant trainer Aaron Borgmann in helping him return to form with improvements to assist in his goal of getting to the quarterback.
“They really helped me to get my running form down, things that I normally wouldn’t focus on in the offseason and that’s made a big difference,” DeVito said. “My speed feels great. I feel great with my quickness, my speed, my agility, all that stuff has come back better.”
The Chiefs totaled 46 sacks in 2014, which ranked as the fifth-most in the league.
Houston’s 22 sacks led the league, while Hali’s six were tied for second-most on the team with defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Defensive ends Allen Bailey (5), Vance Walker (2) and Jaye Howard (1) combined for eight.
With Walker now with the Denver Broncos and Poe currently recovering from back surgery, somebody will need to help generate pressure from the inside and DeVito is ready for the opportunity to contribute.
He also has a personal goal in mind.
“Five is a great number for an inside guy,” DeVito said. “If you can get five sacks, that’s a really solid year. That would be a great number.”