One rookie that I — and many Chiefs fans — were especially interested to hear from was Willie Gay Jr. There are a lot of questions about Gay’s usage and position in 2020, but everyone agrees that they want his athleticism on the field as soon as possible.
Gay was asked about his transition to the NFL and what he needed to do to prepare to be on the field early.
“I know it’s going to be different,” Gay said. “But I played in the SEC, so I feel like I have a little headstart on everybody. But of course, it’s the NFL and it’s way different.”
He went on to answer a later question about missing preseason games, saying that he wished he still had those reps to adjust to the speed of the game. He seems to understand that he’ll definitely need some adjustment coming in and maybe even understands that the reps won’t necessarily be his until he makes that adjustment. However, I do appreciate the confidence in his experiences and ability to make the move quickly at the next level.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Gay is which side of the field he’ll line up. While Steve Spagnuolo shares some of the responsibilities between the SAM and WILL spots, there is a significant adjustment between the two spots. Damien Wilson was able to translate from SAM linebacker early in the year across the formation to WILL for the 2019 Chiefs, largely due to some experience at both spots prior to joining the Chiefs.
Luckily for the Chiefs, Gay has those same experiences.
“SAM and WILL are something that I’ve played since high school,” Gay said. “Playing off the edge and playing outside in — even playing WILL and sometimes playing inside out — it’s natural because I did it for so long.”
I’ve believed Matt House and Steve Spagnuolo throughout the offseason when they said that Gay will likely start the year in the SAM linebacker role. It made sense for the reasons listed above: adjusting to the speed of the game and playing to Gay’s comfort level. Few players have the ability to be impact defenders at both spots, but Gay’s body type and athleticism definitely fit.
While Gay is still learning the defense, the reps he’ll get at the SAM linebacker role can still be quality reps — and not wasted by just trying to get a rookie some extra snaps in a shortened offseason. However, I do expect for Gay to claim the WILL linebacker role at some point as he grows into the game.
In the meantime, Gay can utilize his burst from the second level as a blitzer in 2020. His exceptional burst and body control help him to make impact plays rushing the passer, and Spagnuolo will certainly use him in that role.
That didn’t stop Gay from calling for more in his presser on Saturday — namely, his own blitz package to stay on the field in later downs.
“With the scheme, it’s perfect...I feel like I can blitz from anywhere on the field. I would love to be a part of a blitz package where coach can use me wherever he wants and help the team on third down.”
I’ve spent several articles in the Summer of Spags series this offseason detailing Gay’s usage in blitz packages for Spagnuolo in 2020. I dedicated a whole section to Gay’s blitzing ability — which absolutely leaps off the tape — in my post-draft film review as well. Quite simply, he’s already a top-notch blitzing linebacker, and he’ll be tough to keep off the field in the Chiefs sub-packages.
Gay asking for a blitz package should excite Chiefs fans. He knows he’s an excellent blitzer, and he wants a big impact role for this squad. Until he nails down the coverage calls, Gay will likely be a base linebacker. Finding a way to get on the field — maybe even as a stand-up EDGE — in the sub-package will only make him a better player in the long run.
While we may not have gotten any concrete questions answered in Gay’s first camp press conference, it was good to hear the rookie’s stance on his early role in the Chiefs defense. It was especially encouraging to hear the understanding of the adjustments needed to get on the field, and what he could bring to the Chiefs once he gets a bigger role. Time will tell how quickly Gay comes along during the season, but the approach he appears to have thus far should give fans hope for a big year from the rookie linebacker.