Through the first six weeks of the season, Kansas City Chiefs rookie linebacker Dorian O’Daniel had 10 defensive snaps. Given those statistics, it made sense that one of the most common questions from Chiefs fans here at Arrowhead Pride was, “Where’s O’Daniel?”
And it was worth asking. General manager Brett Veach was the one who told us O’Daniel would serve as a “chess piece,” for the Chiefs, that he’d be on the field in dime and sub-packages.
But the Chiefs eased him in, and it turned out to be the right move.
“I think early on, they didn’t want to put too much on me,” O’Daniel explained Wednesday. “I was transitioning, still learning the whole process and everything. Early on, bit by bit, they were trying to ease me into that role we spoke about and as the season went on and injuries happen, and Terrance Smith went down, I feel like that original plan got dropped on me in that moment.”
The Chiefs placed Smith, who tore his ACL, on injured reserve in late October, so O’Daniel, prepared or not, had to be inserted into the lineup because there was simply no other choice.
“I was ready,” O’Daniel said. “I looked at that as an opportunity to show them this is why you guys drafted me. I am willing, I am capable of doing that at a high level.”
O’Daniel played in 24 snaps on Sunday Night Football against the Bengals to start, recording a rather memorable hit on running back Joe Mixon. It was one of four tackles for O’Daniel in the game.
So much to be impressed with by Chiefs tonight. Add No. 44 (LB Dorian O’Daniel) to the list. He absolutely blew up Mixon here. pic.twitter.com/Vu0ifMGOQG— Jeff Rosen (@jeff_rosen88) October 22, 2018
“It’s a good feeling,” O’Daniel said of making a play like that. “I obviously believe in myself and I know my worth, but I’d be lying to say, being a rookie, you don’t question your ability. Like, can I compete with these guys at such a high level? So being out there early on and making plays at a high level—it was a huge confidence boost because just making your first play or tackle, it’s like, ‘OK. I can do this.’
“The speed of the game starts to slow down, start to see things a little differently. I was definitely happy about that feeling.”
During a season in which the Chiefs have at times shown an unwillingness to tackle, O’Daniel has been a breath of fresh air, and the coaching staff has liked what it has seen, too.
“I think he’s done a really good job,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Thursday. “He’s really playing two positions, he’s playing both the Mike and the Dime in sub (packages)—that’s a fair amount of information and work you got to do. I’ve been really pleased with what he’s done over the last couple of weeks here.”
One might think that sounds a bit like Daniel Sorensen’s role, and it should. Sorensen does a lot of the same things for the Chiefs that O’Daniel has done the past few games, and Sorensen is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
But there is an aspect to it all, Sutton explained, that we may have not been thinking about.
“Both could be in there at once together,” Sutton added. “Just like we are now—sometimes we’ll have Dorian will be in there with another DB that’s playing in the dime position. That could be Dan, if he gets back all the way right now, too. That’s when I say—[Dan] plays both of those positions. He could play the dime when he’s playing with another linebacker or he could be the, in our term, the Mike, when he’s playing with another DB there.”
The presence of both O’Daniel and Sorensen could offer Sutton and the Chiefs defense a form of unpredictability we haven’t yet seen this year, a very good thing for a unit some fans and analysts believe needs to show improvement in order for the team to make a deep playoff run.
And O’Daniel and Sorensen’s ability to make a difference is a credit to each player. One of the unique experiences O’Daniel and Sorensen share is first working on special teams before making an impact on defense.
That, special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Thursday, gives him a source of pride.
“We feel like we are the breeding ground for those guys,” Toub said. “You get them reps, you get them blocking and tackling in a game situation, then you are kind of proud when you see them get out there and play and make plays on defense.”
Coming off a season-high 33 defensive snaps, O’Daniel is just getting started.
“He’s got great speed,” Toub added. “He is getting better and better. He’s making more and more plays for us too.
“Confidence breeds confidence and he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”