Chiefs rookie update: Defense

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
6:05
PM ET
Nico Johnson Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Chiefs' Nico Johnson was making a hefty impact before suffering an ankle injury.
Earlier I posted some thoughts on the progress of the Chiefs offensive rookies and where I thought they fit in as the regular season begins. Here, I talk about the five defensive rookies:

  • Nico Johnson, fourth round, inside linebacker. Johnson was playing well and appeared on track to become a starter at some point this season. He showed some nice instinct and the ability to shed blocks and make tackles in the running game. Then he suffered a high ankle sprain. He hasn’t played or practiced since. His shouldn’t be an extended absence but any practice time missed by a rookie is a lot of time. At this point, it’s reasonable to count on Johnson for little more than special-teams help for the first half of the season. Longer term, he should have a spot as the starter at the inside position next to Derrick Johnson.
  • Mike Catapano, defensive end, seventh round. Catapano was moved recently back to his more natural position as a defensive end. The Chiefs had played him at linebacker since drafting him.Catapano is undersized at 270 pounds so his main contributions as a rookie should come on special teams. But the Chiefs aren’t deep on the defensive line, so an injury could force him into the playing rotation. Catapano has showed some pass-rush skills. He was with the first team early this week as a pass-rusher in the nickel defense in place of Allen Bailey, who missed practice because of the death of his father.
  • Bradley McDougald, safety, undrafted. McDougald won his roster spot, beating out veteran Tysyn Hartman, with solid all-around play. Hartman may have been better against the run but McDougald was better in pass coverage. As the fifth safety, he won’t play on defense except in case of injuries ahead of him.McDougald’s roster spot will be in jeopardy when the Chiefs activate Sanders Commings off injured reserve. A fifth-round draft pick, Commings was playing a lot in the nickel defense during offseason practice. He broke his collarbone in the first practice at training camp and hasn’t played or practiced since. He was placed on IR Tuesday.
  • Josh Martin, undrafted, linebacker. Martin came to the Chiefs as the ultimate long shot. He played in college at an Ivy League school, Columbia, and plays a position inhabited in Kansas City by three Pro Bowl players. But Martin made an impact in training camp. He displayed nice instincts in the running game and pass-rush skills, as well. He showed enough of both the Chiefs decided to keep him on their active roster as a developmental player.Martin probably won’t play as a rookie unless it’s on special teams. But he’s already pulled the ultimate upset by making it this far.
  • Marcus Cooper, cornerback, waivers from San Francisco. Cooper was drafted by the 49ers this year in the seventh round but was released over the weekend. Cooper was mostly a bystander during his only practice so far with the Chiefs after arriving on Sunday night. But he will get a look to be the fourth cornerback. The Chiefs went through several candidates unsuccessfully for that fourth cornerback spot and their failure to find one was a big reason they claimed Cooper.

Adam Teicher

ESPN Kansas City Chiefs reporter

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