Football is officially back as the Kansas City Chiefs open training camp on Saturday, July 27th. Between the Tyreek Hill situation and the Frank Clark and Dee Ford trades, Kansas City has been in the news about as much as any other team in the league. However, it’s time to leave off-season narratives in the past and focus on the upcoming 2019 season.
Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp: What to Watch For
The Kansas City Chiefs ultimately lost the AFC Championship Game because of their atrocious defense. Say what you will about Dee Ford lining up offsides, Kansas City wins that game if they stop Tom Brady on any of the final three drives. They couldn’t, and Brady and the Patriots went on to win their sixth Super Bowl.
The Chiefs fired longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and replaced him with one-time Super Bowl champion Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo orchestrated the defense which famously held the 2007 Patriots to just 14 points in Super Bowl 42. However, Spagnulo hasn’t had the best track record in recent seasons. Since 2012, Spagnuolo’s defenses have ranked 31st, 30th, 2nd, and 27th points allowed, which obviously isn’t great.
Spagnuolo runs a 4-3 defense, which obviously represents a change from Sutton and his 3-4 scheme. Theoretically, adding another lineman on the field will help a defense which finished last in run defense DVOA. However, in today’s NFL, defenses spend the grand majority of their time in sub packages, meaning that Kansas City will typically carry a fifth defensive back instead of a third linebacker or a fourth defensive lineman. There’s no way to tell if Spagnuolo’s scheme will work until the games start, but it will interesting to see how the longtime veterans adjust to the updated scheme.
Juan Thornhill, Tyrann Mathieu Duo
The Chiefs knew they needed to improve their secondary in the off-season, and that’s exactly what they did with the addition of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill. Eric Berry is a franchise cornerstone and will always be loved in Kansas City, but the fact of the matter is that he only played three games in the past two seasons. The NFL is a heartless business, and the Chiefs knew they needed an upgrade. They added said upgrade by signing Mathieu to a three-year, $42 million deal in free agency.
Mathieu has battled injuries throughout his career, but he’s one of the NFL’s most productive safeties when healthy. He’s strong against the run, in zone, and in man coverage against tight ends, running backs, and slot receivers. He’s a true do-everything safety and should provide a steadying presence to the secondary.
Kansas City also made one of the best picks in the draft by selecting rookie Juan Thornhill late in the second round. Thornhill has late-first round talent but somehow fell in the Chiefs’ lap with the 63rd overall pick. Thornhill is another great talent, although he’ll probably be best playing the free safety position. The Virginia product has great range, instincts, and the ability to make plays on the ball. He reportedly impressed in minicamps and should be the favorite to start in Week One. These two have the chance to be a top-five safety duo if everything breaks right.
Any offense led by Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid is going to be good, so it makes sense that most of the training camp focus is on the defense. However, Kansas City’s backfield is still an interesting situation to monitor. As of this posting, Damien Williams is set to be the undisputed starter. Reid established that Williams is the guy and will see a majority of the workload.
Reed might want to use Williams as a feature back, but Williams might not be up for the job. Damien Williams was a fringe NFL talent just one year ago, and most of his 2018 production was due to the scheme. Williams ranked 112th in yards created per carry, meaning he only picked up the yardage provided by his blocking.
The primary competitors for Williams’ job are Carlos Hyde and rookie sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson. Hyde averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in 2018 with Hue Jackson’s Cleveland Browns and Cody Kessler’s Jacksonville Jaguars. However, he has a successful track record from San Francisco and could rebound if given a chance. Darwin Thompson, meanwhile, was a Pro Football Focus favorite and impressed the coaching staff during OTA’s. Don’t be surprised if Thompson ends up seeing a sizable workload if he can continue to impress in the Chiefs training camp.
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