KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Players on the Chiefs' defensive line have a handful of new requirements in 2011. One is that they must be able to take a joke; with light-hearted and sharp-tongued teammates such as nose tackle Kelly Gregg hanging around, the self-unsure might feel out of place.
"You've got to have thick skin to be in our D-line room," said Gregg, signed during training camp after spending the last decade with Baltimore. "You've got to be able to take jokes and roll with the flow."
The other requirement these days is a kind of versatility on its line that Kansas City didn't possess during coach Todd Haley's first two seasons. After three offseasons of roster moves, Haley now has defensive toys he lacked the past two years.
Veteran lineman Wallace Gilberry spent the offseason bulking up so that he could be seen as a more complete defensive lineman, rather than just a pass rusher. The Chiefs drafted Allen Bailey in the third round this past April, and he is seen as a defender who could shift into several packages and situations, moving from end to nose tackle, depending on what the opposing offense is showing.
Haley said that, in addition to the three linemen expected to begin the season as starters — Gregg and ends Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey — the linemen who'll make the team and be on each Sunday's active roster are those with several talents.
"Some of these guys," Haley said, "during regular practice are working one area, whether a sub or a base, and in that period, they're getting the other and are really just trying to develop the skills and the technique to be a crossover guy.
"So that'll be the key: Who's the in-between guy? Because it's going to come down to roster, game day; how many are you taking, five or six?"
Haley admitted that, early in training camp, he thought his defensive line was one of the team's more fragile position groups. After all, many of the likely contributors seem to have defined strengths — but also potentially noticeable weaknesses. Dorsey is undersized, despite settling well into the end position after playing years at tackle. Jackson struggled his first two years, despite looking the part and being drafted at No. 3 overall in 2009. Gregg, at 34, is experienced but aging. Bailey and nose tackle Jerrell Powe are rookies. And Gilberry has, at least through his first three seasons, been one-dimensional.
"Unknown, maybe, early on," Haley said of his prospects for the line. "How's this all going to go, because you really don't know what you have. Now, we have a little more information to go on."
One of the unknowns is how much Gregg can be counted on to last through the season and maintain the high level he was known for with the Ravens. Haley said he has told many of the Chiefs' older players that it matters little what they say; he's looking for proof that their best years aren't behind them.
"You've got to show me you've still got it," the coach said.
For his part, Gregg said he has worked this preseason to prove that age hasn't made him slower or any less effective. He said part of his job is to mentor the Chiefs' young lineman, in particular Powe, the team's sixth-round pick this year. Another part is to keep up with the youngsters' energy and, though he's more a base-defense defender than a versatile crossover player, encourage his teammates to do all they can to impress coaches and make an impact.
"A lot of times," Gregg said, "you get guys set in their ways — I just want to play the run, I just want to rush the passer — but no, these guys are willing to do anything you ask them.... Here, you've got to try to do both or you'll be sitting there watching."
Haley said that, after a tenuous first two weeks, he has become more comfortable with a position group with many question marks, a few jokers, and perhaps the fate of Kansas City's 2011 defense on its shoulders.
"The light goes on for different times at different times," he said. "I guess I've seen the light go on for a few guys here recently."
LB Siler tears Achilles —Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler tore an Achilles tendon during practice this week and is the latest to join a growing list of NFL players to sustain the season-ending injury.
Siler's agent, David Canter, confirmed the injury in a text message to The Associated Press on Wednesday. He did not know which Achilles was hurt, but said Siler already had surgery to repair it.
Siler was competing for the middle linebacker spot alongside Derrick Johnson after signing with the Chiefs as a free agent. Siler had looked good throughout fall camp after picking up 44 tackles, one sack and one interception in 12 games with the San Diego Chargers last season.