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Tyrann Mathieu says Juan Thornhill is still battling back from his injury

The Chiefs’ star safety seemed to confirm Andy Reid’s implication after Sunday’s game — that the second-year safety still isn’t quite 100%.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As the game against the Las Vegas Raiders was underway on Sunday afternoon, Kansas City Chiefs fans were wondering, “Where is Juan Thornhill?”

The second-year safety — selected during the second round (63rd overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft — turned in a solid rookie season, collecting 58 tackles (42 solo), three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and five passes defensed. On 28 targets, Thornhill allowed an opponent passer rating of just 43.0 — an outstanding performance.

Up until the bye week of this season, Thornhill had started seven games and been used as a third safety; he’d been on the field for 88% of the team’s defensive snaps. But against the Raiders, that changed dramatically.

As you can see, Thornhill even saw significant usage on special teams during the game — something he hadn’t done since Week 15 of his rookie season.

“He’s a situational guy right now,” head coach Andy Reid said of Thornhill after the game. “We’re just going to bring him back slowly — so that’s what we’re doing.”

Reid’s statement seemed to imply that the young safety hadn’t been playing in top form since his return from the ACL injury he suffered in the last game of the 2019 regular season — and to be sure, recovering from such an injury in so short a time is a bit unusual. Still, Thornhill had seemed ready to go for the season-opener — even though he started the season with a lower snap count than normal.

“I’ve been through [an] ACL twice,” fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu told reporters on Wednesday. “I remember when I went through my ACL, it wasn’t until a year [or] two years after until I really began to feel like myself again.”

Mathieu seemed to be confirming what Reid had implied — that Thornhill needs more time to get back to his 2019 form, saying that he would counsel his young comrade to be patient.

“I think everybody’s body is different,” added Mathieu, “but I think the most important thing we all have to kind of understand is that patience. It’s going to take some time to get there — and there will be a lot of expectations from other people outside of you who want you to reach your destination quicker than [it’s] possible.”

From having been through a similar experience, Mathieu clearly feels badly that Thornhill hasn’t been seeing the same amount of work.

“Obviously it’s a challenge to begin a new role — a lesser role — to not be on the field as much, but he’s still the same guy. He’s still becoming a leader for us. He’s still very vocal on the field, on the sideline and the meeting rooms. And I think that’s all you can really ask for from a guy like that who is going through what he’s going through. He still has the same smile — has the same heart.”

Thornhill already seemed to have heeded some of his mentor’s advice on Wednesday afternoon when he tweeted to his official account. Mathieu noted that even though Thornhill is improving both physically and mentally, it will be up to the rest of the team to help him along.

“It’s all about us continuing to encourage him, continuing to motivate him, continuing to make him feel like we really believe in him — which we do. I think he’ll be fine going forward — but it’s going to take the group to kind of rally around him and continue to push him.”