KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — For a guy who with three strikes against him, defensive end Wallace Gilberry is making quite a splash in Kansas City.
First, he bears the stigma of coming into the NFL as an undrafted free agent. Guys drafted in the first round have to prove they can’t play. Undrafted free agents must prove they can.
Secondly, he was brought in for a 4-3 defense, and now the Chiefs have installed a 3-4.
Most critically, he’s just not very big in a world that favors mammoth.
At 6-foot-2 and 260, Gilberry might be a giant in the checkout line. On a defensive line in the NFL, the guy across the line could outweigh him by 30 or 40 pounds or more.
But so what? With determination and grit and what one teammate calls his “giant heart,” the former Alabama star is figuring prominently in Kansas City’s plans this year.
During training camp three weeks ago, coach Todd Haley even said Gilberry might someday work his way into a starting role. That would be quite an upset since the other two defensive ends, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, were top-five draft picks who outweigh Gilberry by almost 40 pounds and are making millions of dollars.
“Wallace is in a competition to try to be one of the guys in the front three in the 3-4 defense, and I think he can do that,” Haley said. “He’s got to play with great technique. He’s got to do the things the way he’s supposed to do it, and he’s got to know what to do.”
Gilberry knows coaches sometimes send messages to players through the media. He’s trying not to put too much stock in anything he hears.
“You can’t worry about that,” he said. “Each guy has a role to play and I know my role. I’m trying to execute as best I can to help this team win.”
The native of Bay Minette, Ala., was a star for the Crimson Tide. His 60.5 tackles for loss are second in Alabama annals behind only the late Derrick Thomas, a perennial pro bowl linebacker for the Chiefs in the 1990s. But that did not impress anyone enough to make them draft him. He signed with the New York Giants in 2008 and signed on with the Chiefs that November.
His game is technique and quickness. He gets by on determination and guile. He’s already surprised a lot of people just staying in the league this long. Now he’ll go into the season figuring prominently in the Chiefs defensive plans. On the depth chart this week, he’s running second team behind Dorsey at right defensive end.
“I’m just still trying to get better, still trying to show them it would be a good idea to keep me around,” Gilberry said. “I come out every day hoping to get better. In no way am I close to being where I want to be. I know all my life I’ll carry that tag, ‘undrafted free agent,’ but I don’t care.”
In all sports, players who were not drafted, or taken in the lower rounds, have to prove themselves time and again.
“You can’t measure a man’s heart,” Gilberry said. “That’s what I play on, emotions and heart. But at the same time, I know it takes more than heart. It also takes the physical attributes and the mental attributes and the football instincts. But I don’t even think about all that any more. I came in the way I came in and I’m here to stay.
“I’m going to show them I’m here to stay.”
Gilberry’s teammates, perhaps with the understandable exception of Dorsey and Jackson, are rooting for him. One of his closest friends on the team is four-time Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters, another player who made good after coming in as an undrafted free agent.
“Wallace is a great example of a guy who’s making the best of a bad situation,” Waters said. “He came here to play a different type of defense and he’s been able to stay through all the changes. There’s not a lot of guys who were here three years ago. I cheer for guys like Wallace.”