Bob Lutz: Time for KC’s defensive line to be more than promise

Along its massive defensive front, the Kansas City Chiefs have some expensive beef. It belongs to Glenn Dorsey, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft; Tyson Jackson, chosen No. 3 in the 2009 draft; and rookie Dontari Poe, who was taken 11th overall in the 2012 draft.

It’s one of the Chiefs’ strong points as they prepare for the 2012 season. It could be argued that the Chiefs have the most potent D-line in the AFC and perhaps all of football.

Dorsey and Jackson, out of LSU, have been game-changers since arriving in the league. And the Chiefs were so blown away by Poe’s consistency at Memphis during his college career that general manager Scott Pioli and his minions would have been irresponsible not to have taken him at No. 11.

Yes sir, the Chiefs’ defensive line is the envy of every NFL general manager.

By the way, everything you read in the previous three paragraphs is a lie. A dirty, cheap lie.

Truth is, the Chiefs look rather silly for picking Dorsey and Jackson so high in back-to-back drafts. It’s not fair to call either a player a bust, but it’s not accurate to say they have lived up to expectations, either.

You’ve got to hand it to Pioli for having the gumption to take another defensive lineman in the 2012 draft, considering the way Dorsey and Jackson have slogged along so far in an effort to reach the potential the Chiefs drafted them for.

Poe, though, looks like he’ll get the first crack at starting in the middle of the Chiefs’ 3-4 alignment, with Dorsey and Jackson on either side. There’s a lot of beef there, all right, but it hasn’t been the filet mignon the investment made would indicate.

And while the Chiefs look like a legitimate playoff contender in the AFC West, it sure would help seal the deal if the trio of first-round picks who man the defensive front play the way they’re paid.

The Chiefs should have a stout defense, even with their best pass rusher, linebacker Tamba Hali, out for the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons because of a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

But can the defense be all it can be without a solid – that’s all, solid – contribution from the three behemoths up front?

They need to squash the opposition’s running game so that the rest of the Chiefs’ defense can zone in on slowing down passing attacks. There’s a talented group of defensive backs, led by returning safety Eric Berry and cornerback Brandon Flowers, who is on the cusp of being special.

But how much will the Chiefs miss Flowers’ companion at cornerback, Brandon Carr, who left via free agency to join the Dallas Cowboys? Veteran Stanford Routt steps in to replace Carr, but that’s a downgrade.

Hali and Derrick Johnson, another former No. 1 pick who took some time to come into his own, are two of the top linebackers in the league. The other starting linebackers, Jovan Belcher and Justin Houston, are still young and trying to prove themselves.

The Chiefs are so young defensively. Routt and Johnson are 29, no other projected starter is older than the 28-year-old Hali. That’s cause for both enthusiasm and caution. There could be a whole lot of upside with this defense, but can such a young group pull together and be consistent from the start of the season to the finish?

Remember, Kansas City gave up 41 and 48 points to Buffalo and Detroit in the first two games of the 2011 season before pulling it together some defensively. The Chiefs looked especially crisp on defense after Romeo Crennel, who had been the team’s defensive coordinator, took over after Todd Haley was fired as coach with three games remaining.

In those three, the Chiefs handed Green Bay its first loss, lost in overtime against Oakland and beat the Denver Broncos, all while allowing only 33 points.

I think Crennel is the perfect coach to lead a young defense and without the offense-first Haley calling the shots, he’ll make the Chiefs a defense-first team. The offense is in able hands with quarterback Matt Cassel (shame on you Chiefs fans for showering him with boos at the All-Star softball game) and a nice group of weapons.

The Chiefs will go as far as their defense takes them. It’s time now for Jackson and Dorsey to play consistently like first-round draft choices should play. And Poe has to be more than just a tease.

If they get it done, the Chiefs’ season has no limits. But if you hear the names of backups like Anthony Toribio, Brandon Bair, Jerrell Powe, Amon Gordon and Allen Bailey a lot, it means those three No. 1s are still spinning their wheels and the Chiefs have probably ended up somewhere in a ditch.