KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The Chiefs have plenty to do during what likely will be a busy offseason. Lots of positions to address, players to scout and weaknesses to upgrade. Perhaps it gives the team at least some comfort that one position — the one it invested so much in last offseason — at least looks stable, if it hasn't yet been spectacular.
The Chiefs' starting defensive ends haven't been great. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson possess the defense's most lucrative contracts and were the team's draft picks in each of the last two years. But for all the money, time and expectation, backups Wallace Gilberry and Alex Magee are the ones who have combined for 6 1/2 sacks. Dorsey and Jackson have zero.
Still, the Chiefs don't seem worried. If there's one position that actually brings coach Todd Haley some comfort, it's defensive end.
"It has been up and down," he said, "and that's what we have to eliminate. We need to get a group there that can hang in there week in and week out — and when they're a little off, then have some guys that make up for them. We've had some games where they've really played solid."
But there is plenty of room for improvement. Sacks and huge tackle numbers are seen as a bonus for that position, whose primary responsibilities are plugging rushing lanes and opening big-play opportunities for the Chiefs' linebackers. But with Dorsey and Jackson walking around with contracts worth a combined $53.5 million guaranteed, it's not always easy to consider those players justifying the big dollars.
"I know I've got a long way to go," said Jackson, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2009. "The things I did in college are not going to work over here."
But if the Chiefs aren't yet satisfied with the play of their ends, they're at least not worried. Haley said this week that all positions might be ripe for upgrades if the right players are available, but he indicated that Jackson's and Dorsey's jobs are not in jeopardy. It was only a few months ago that Haley considered every position an open competition, regardless of draft history or salary. With some players having answered some questions, Haley said the team can focus instead on its many weaknesses — without having to retrace steps at positions that have commanded massive investments.
"There's a lot less unknown on this team right now than there was 12 months ago," Haley said this week. "That part of it, I think, is good for everyone. That knowledge will help everyone do their jobs better."
It was the defensive line that attracted attention after Haley and general manager Scott Pioli arrived nearly a year ago. The top priority in the draft was to address the line, which the team did by taking Jackson and Magee with its top two picks. The plan was to repair that position group, install players who might not be outstanding but who would bring the Chiefs closer to being a legitimate 3-4 unit, and then — if all went well — address other positions after the 2009 season.
For now, that remains the plan. And there are plenty of other positions to address. But that doesn't mean the incumbent ends will be cruising this offseason into a certain roster spot in 2010.
"You always have to worry about your job," Gilberry said. "Even though you want to say, 'I made a couple plays,' those plays really don't matter. This is a whole new year. What we did from today on back, it doesn't matter. You definitely have to come back to work and keep grinding.
"But we definitely feel like we're able to carry the load."
Haley said it should help that those players have experienced an offseason under this coaching staff. He said that should help them understand their requirements and, Haley hopes, stay on point after a disappointing season. Jackson said he'll be working during his downtime.
"Throughout the whole year," he said, "I made improvements here and there in my game. I've just got to continue to work hard in the offseason and just get better. I think we all look at our jobs as having much more improvement to do."