When it came to the team’s secondary, Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was dealt a rough hand right from the beginning of the season.
Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland had to serve a four-game suspension stemming from a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Then in the Week 1 game against the Houston Texans, his other starting cornerback — Charvarius Ward — fractured his hand. He missed Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers, returning with a cast on his hand (and playing limited snaps) during the next two games.
So Spagnuolo has had to improvise, starting fourth-round rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, making use of new free-agent cornerback Antonio Hamilton — who had been acquired mostly for his special-teams skills — and even using safety Tyrann Mathieu as a third cornerback to begin the season.
Second-year player Rashad Fenton — who had served mostly as a nickel cornerback in 2019 — became a starting outside corner after Ward’s injury. When Sneed broke his collarbone in Week 3, Spagnuolo had to improvise again, giving Hamilton (and the recovering Ward) more snaps.
Despite all this, the secondary has played very well, holding opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 72.9 — second-best in the league — through the first four games of the season. Sneed proved to be a fourth-round steal — and Fenton shined in Monday night’s victory over the New England Patriots.
But things should get easier now. Breeland has completed his suspension — and the Chiefs expect him to be ready.
“I’ve been following him on his social media, watching him throughout the course of his workouts and doing everything,” defensive backs coach Sam Madison told reporters last week. “He looks physically fit and ready to go. Before he left, he was in really good shape and understanding of the defense because this would be his second year into it — so bringing that physicality back.”
“Look, Bashaud was a starter for us and we know what he can do,” Spagnuolo told reporters on Thursday. “It’s Game 5 — and going down the stretch here, we’re going to need everybody, so we kind of want to get guys oiled up. We’ll tread lightly, see how we figure the whole thing out. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him — and the guys that were in there playing. Hopefully it can stay that way.”
Spagnuolo acknowledged that Fenton’s play over three starts has earned him the chance to continue to be a significant contributor.
“I think he should certainly get reps out there,” he said. “We’ll see. There are a lot of moving parts — even during the week — with injuries and getting reps. We only get so many reps this time of year [because] we’re not practicing as much; we do more walk-throughs than anything else.
“The challenge is to get Breeland up to speed, to make sure that Rashad still gets some corner work — because he deserves it with the way he played — keep Charvarius in there [and] whether it’s Hamilton or whoever the fourth guy is. When it’s all said and done, when you go through the season, you need a bunch of corners. Hopefully we can get them all some time — and stay flexible either way.”