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Steve Spagnuolo admits that the Chiefs defense is playing catch up

The defensive coordinator believes this offseason’s challenges will impact other NFL defenses too

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has made it very clear that his offense’s preparation will not be affected by the absence of preseason or the obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has said that they’re on the same track as a normal offseason.

On Monday, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did not display the same confidence in his unit being ready. Instead, he told reporters that there are no guarantees this season.

“(Former Chiefs cornerback) Kendall Fuller is not here, (starting safety) Juan (Thornhill) hasn’t been out there, there are some spots or some pieces that we have to find to put this thing all together. We’re light years away. Just because you finish at a certain point at the end of one year does not mean you pick right up from that particular spot. We got to go back to ground zero, it’s still about getting better everyday.”

Spagnuolo continued on about the specific challenge that is hampering the progression of the defense in training camp.

“There’s nothing in our brains that says we’re not going to go through some growing pains this year like we did last year. That happens every year. Especially with no preseason games, not going up against another opponent except for our offense for five weeks here. It’s going to be a challenge, I think it’s going to be a challenge for all defenses across the league.”

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The second-year Chiefs defensive coordinator does bring up a valid point. NFL defenses are only facing their own team’s offense before the regular season kicks off. No NFL offense is the same; one team may run similar plays, but the tendencies and concepts of a play caller are unique to that team.

Facing one of the best offenses every day in practice, Spagnuolo pointed out a disadvantage.

“We don’t see a lot of run plays right now,” Spagnuolo noted. “They’re an attack team, throwing the ball downfield. I get concerned about us stopping the run. We play a team first game of the season that can run it pretty good.”

That aspect of the defense became especially important after Spagnuolo revealed that defensive tackle Mike Pennel could possibly face an early-season suspension. Pennel was incredibly important to the turnaround of the run defense last season. His potential absence will force younger defensive linemen to step up.

One of those players may be third-year defensive end Breeland Speaks, who missed all of 2019 with an injury.

“I would hesitate to say that he’s really had two years in the system.” Spagnuolo warned about Speaks. “...it’s really been a whole year, and you have to be out there doing it. It’s one thing learning it in the meeting room, on tape, listening to coaches, it’s another thing to go out and do it. So he’s a little bit rusty.”

All that being said, the 60-year-old coach is embracing the challenge of getting his players back up to speed. He found one silver lining in the midsts of chaos.

“What we’re going through with masks, WebX meetings, and the challenges of what we’re dealing with right now, we’re all really glad it’s not the first year. It would be really hard.”