The Kansas City Chiefs defense has changed quite a bit since last year’s AFC Championship Game. The addition of multiple rookies in the secondary and speedy young linebackers has revamped a unit seeking respect around the league in 2022.
The departures of longtime Chiefs players like Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorensen, and Anthony Hitchens have opened the door for new leadership to take root. Juan Thornhill and Willie Gay Jr. have been vocal throughout training camp about their desire to help lead the team this season. The duo shared their thoughts with media members on the team’s growth so far during preseason.
“Yeah, I’ve been seeing a bunch of good things with us being out there in these preseason games,” said Thornhill. “We haven’t had the most reps but at the same time, when we’re out there we’re making the most of every single rep that we have. Guys are making plays. We’re getting stops on defense, so that’s always a good thing when the offense isn’t scoring.”
Thornhill has relished the opportunity to serve as a mentor for the young secondary and is focused on building the rookies’ confidence.
“I’ve seen the guys grow each and every day, honestly,” Thornhill explained. “Just looking at Bryan (Cook), at first, he wasn’t being super vocal, but now he’s taking the leadership role when he’s on the field. Like if he’s out there with the two’s or the one’s, I always notice him making the calls and that’s a good thing with a rookie being able to step up and take leadership like that.”
Both Thornhill and Gay Jr. are entering seasons where they are expected to be full-time starters and produce consistently. They’re also expected to help to foster success for the entire defense.
“Just constant growth each and every week,” said Gay Jr. “Each and every day. Again, you see the young guys add on and come in. They know the defense well; we didn’t have to slow it down for them or anything. So, to see that and to get those guys adding on to the defense on the back end, defensive ends, linebackers, they added on a great piece to this whole defense.”
The Chiefs enter the last preseason game on Thursday with many players still trying to make the team or solidify their roles. The continued growth of the defense between rookies, newcomers and veterans will be crucial as the team works its way back to Super Bowl contention.