Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen first joined the team in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Brigham Young University. He immediately gained a reputation as a hard-working, blue-collar player; his teammates gave him the nickname Dirty Dan because he was “willing to do the jobs no one else wanted to do.”
Used primarily as a special-teams player during his first three seasons, he became a starter in 2017 as the team struggled to get by without safety Eric Berry, who was lost for the year after being injured in Week 1.
But that made Sorensen controversial. Without the speed or athleticism to match up with elite receivers, he began to be viewed as a player who couldn’t get the job done — or at the very least, one who wasn’t living up to his salary-cap number. That perception got worse as his salary rose in 2018 and 2019.
But last season, two new safeties joined the team: free agent Tyrann Mathieu and second-round rookie Juan Thornhill. Their presence allowed new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to find new dirty jobs for Sorensen to handle — box safety, hybrid linebacker and so on — in addition to his continuing role as one of special teams coordinator Dave Toub’s core players.
It was as if Sorensen had spent his entire career in search of a defensive coordinator who could properly use his particular skills.
It paid off on Sunday during the Chiefs’ 43-16 victory over the Denver Broncos. Sorensen led the team in tackles — including a few memorable hits on Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay — and he made a beautiful interception that he returned for a touchdown.
“If I tell you what happened with Dan’s play, I wouldn’t be doing my job because we were all in man-to-man coverage,” joked Mathieu after the game. “But I did kind of see Dan jump in front of the route. That’s what we expect from Dan: he studies really hard, he’s a guy that’s always prepared. He’s always clutch, he’s always stepping up making those big-time plays when we really need it.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sorensen said that Spagnuolo is a coach who fits his own study habits.
“He’s very detailed,” noted Sorensen. “I love his meetings; [they’re] just packed full of information. He feeds us as much as we need. You never feel like you’re unprepared going into a [game] or practice, because the coaches’ preparation — the way they teach it to us — is the best that I’ve ever had. When you have a coach like Steve Spagnuolo that’s willing to do that — and you’ve got players that are willing to put in the time to learn and digest what he’s teaching and coaching us — then you’ve got a recipe for success.”
Sorensen also said that the defense’s chemistry is a big part of the reason why it is continuing to improve.
“We’re probably as close of a unit as I’ve ever experienced in my seven years. A lot has to do with guys coming back — we’ve got pretty much the same secondary that we had last year — and we know each other really well and we’ve been playing together for a lot of games now. There’s a lot of continuity there.”
Sorensen also noted that Mathieu’s presence on the team has had a big impact — not only on him, but also on the rest of the defense.
“A lot goes to the leadership on the team,” said Sorensen. “You’ve got Tyrann Mathieu and our coaches, who encourage us to push ourselves during the week in practice — to study hard and practice hard. Those plays — and the plays other guys make — are just a reflection of the hard work that everybody puts in during the week.”
Sorensen said that Mathieu’s influence exists on multiple levels.
“One is his energy. That’s the one thing that probably stands out the most. He has the ability to create this energy. It’s contagious. It’s something that rallies everybody on defense. You want to be a part of it. You grow from it. Everybody leans off it.
“And then his football intelligence is off the charts. He’s a very intelligent football player — very smart [in] his understanding of the game. So that is able to [be translated] to other players on the team. We get to play around him. It elevates everybody’s game.”
But in the end, Sorensen credits the unit’s success in exactly the way you would expect a hard-working, blue-collar player to put it.
“Confidence comes from the hard work that you put in. That’s what we try and do — week in and week out. We have a solid Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practice — and solid preparation and film study — everybody’s locked in. That’s the confidence we carry into the game. Then that obviously translates into production and playing well. I think it even goes a step further to say it’s the work and the preparation that ultimately produces the success on the field.”