Week 1 Player Review: Dontari Poe
It’s not hard to let the mind wonder about former Memphis, and current Chiefs DT Dontari Poe. We’re talking about a 6’4, 350 pound man (read: freak) that’s putting up 45 reps of 225 and running sub 5 forty yard dashes. I considered myself to be squarely in the “Pro-Poe” camp throughout the draft process, but it’d also be unfair to say that there were no concerns. If you were in love with Dontari, it likely wasn’t entirely based upon his play. Much of the time at Memphis, Poe was rather underwhelming, especially considering his level of competition. There were certainly a lot of things that needed to be adjusted technique wise in order for him to be a productive football player. However, I felt as if he showcased some natural skills that made him very much worthy of where he was drafted. These feelings weren’t solely due to his workout numbers and natural skills though. About every 10 plays, something happened. You saw the potential of Dontari Poe. You saw someone who could potentially take this league by storm.
However, it certainly wasn’t realistic to expect these flash plays to turn into something we would see on a consistent basis every Sunday. Any team drafting Poe had to know that they weren’t going to get an instant impact player. I even saw some other Pro-Poe guys suggesting he might have to be inactive the entire year before he finally went on to contribute 2-3 years down the line. As far as the Anti-Poe crowd… most probably didn’t think he’d even be in the league in 3 years. My biggest issue with Poe was that he often failed to play with proper leverage in order to maximize his immense power. He found himself stuck between two scenarios: either he’d fail to extend his arms, which took away his ability to shed, or he over extended and doubled over at the waist, where it’s impossible to generate power through the hips and leg drive.
But while the Chiefs knew they weren’t getting a bona fide stud right off the bat, they certainly weren’t keeping him inactive. In fact, in Week 1, they were starting him at NT, the ever so important piece of the 34 defense. So how did he fare? I personally thought he looked better than he did at Memphis. While Poe wasn’t a standout, impact player in this game, he was far from a detriment to the Kansas City defense. Gone were the cringe-worthy moments of seeing massively inferior offensive lineman pushing him 6-7 yards down the field. Poe actually did a solid job of occupying space (his main responsibility), and showcased some of the reasons he was selected as highly as he was.
One area in which he must improve upon is his handling of double teams. Poe seemed to be too focused on his primary target, and was thrown off balance by a quick punch from an assisting guard. Much of this is a leverage issue (this wasn’t going to get fixed overnight, but he’s certainly improving.)
Another area for improvement is Poe’s overall awareness. There were many occasions in which we were seeing all of Poe’s physical traits on display, but he was simply pushed past the play. However, the less “traditional” the Chiefs were with Poe, the better I felt his play was. One example of this is when they let Poe slant and shoot a gap. While Falcons C Todd McClure was able to use his veteran guile to handle Poe much of the game, on this occasion, Poe’s athletic ability was simply too much to handle:
In this second case, Poe was aligned on an outside shade of the LG, Justin Blalock. Only concerned with the B gap, Poe was not only able to win again with his superior athletic skills, but he actually showed vastly improved technique. When LT Sam Baker came down for the double team, Poe was able to use his size by throwing his body weight into Baker. This, combined with improved arm usage (better leverage), and Poe did not only keep himself upright, but he successfully split the double team. After that, he worked an impressive swim move to beat Justin Blalock and make a tackle for loss.
What does this all mean? Basically, Poe’s not a finished product, but no one expected him to be. What he’s not doing is embarrassing himself, or being a detriment to the workings of the Kansas City defense. I personally think the Chiefs would be wise to continue to limit the amount of times he needs to 2 gap in your standard heads alignment, and do more to let him just use his natural talents. However, Poe still managed to show me the ability to belong as a starting member of the KC defense right now. This is invaluable, because he’ll be able to grow as a player as the season progresses, while still maintaining a presence in the middle, and even make some impact plays along the way.