Since the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award was first given out in 1971, no player on the Kansas City Chiefs has ever won it. In 1969, Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell did win the award from Pro Football Writers of America, but he was the only winner in franchise history. Not even the late, great edge rusher Derrick Thomas ever earned that achievement.
One current Chiefs defender has the requisite confidence to earn that accolade — and a contract that puts him with an elite tier of NFL defensive players. Defensive tackle Chris Jones understands how much it benefits his teammates to play to the peak of his powers.
“That’s something that I’ve always done throughout my career, is set my standards high,” Jones shared with reporters during Monday’s press conference. “And try to incorporate it with my team. If I’m the best defensive player in the league, then I’m obviously doing well for my team and helping my team be one of the best defenses in the league.”
In order for Jones to be considered for that annual award, his season needs to resemble 2018 more than 2019. Two years ago, Jones played in all 16 regular-season games and racked up 15.5 sacks. That big year included breaking an NFL record and earning a sack in 11 consecutive games.
Last season, an offseason holdout and injuries prevented Jones from being as dominant a force. He’s working to get back to that and hoping that some extra time to watch film this summer will give him a boost.
“This offseason was a little different,” Jones explained. “I had a surplus of time to do a lot of things that I normally don’t get to do. Watching film was one of those. I just sat around the house and watched film and trained day in and day out. I was fortunate enough to have a team iPad to be able to watch film a lot and catch up on some things that I wouldn’t be able to see through OTAs or training camp.”
Before he can wreak havoc on the opposing team’s quarterback, Jones understands that the priority of the defense is to take control of the trenches and play the run well. He knows, because defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo emphasizes that element of the game.
“They make it clear on this defense, Spags sets the standard,” Jones stated. “The first thing we rely on is stopping the run and forcing them into passing situations. It’s a huge part of who we are and what we’re trying to establish as a defense. That’s mainly stopping the run, and on third down, let it loose.”
Even with previous comments from Spagnuolo on the lack of run plays they see when practicing against the Chiefs offense, Jones clarified that they’re working hard on improving the unit that surrendered the fourth-highest yards per carry rate in the league last season.
“We have a lot of drills that are designed for the run,” Jones revealed. “ (Defensive line) coach Brendan Daly does a very good job of getting us in run fits, and coach [Andy] Reid implements nine-on-seven which is a run fit period, and throughout practice we work on run fits.”
Don’t be mistaken though: Jones and the rest of the defense understand the benefit of playing their counterparts every day in training camp practice.
“When we’re able to go out on that field and compete with those guys, the sky is the limit for us,” Jones declared. “With all of the weapons that they have and the dynamic offense that they’re able to score at any time in the game. Competing with those guys is elevating us as a defense.”
“Not just only [quarterback Patrick Mahomes], you got a lot of dynamic guys like [tight end] Travis Kelce, [running back] Clyde (Edwards-Helaire), [wide receivers] Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, and Mecole Hardman,” Jones raved. “Going against that offense day in and day out is a challenge. It mentally and physically prepares you for Thursday Night. It gets you in shape, Andy Reid runs one of the hardest training camps in the league, and it’s up-tempo. So it forces you to get in shape, and it forces you to compete.”
The way that the offensive and defensive units have competed with each other this camp can be fuel for players on both sides. However, the team’s practice facility unveiled a new piece of artwork on Monday — and it may be as big a motivator as anything that happens on the field.
“It’s special, man,” Jones admitted. “It took 50 years to get it, 50 years. When you look at it, it makes you want to reach that goal again... You have that hunger even more. For me, it’s a little bit of motivation for me. It makes me want to reach that goal again.”
Jones played a huge role in winning Super Bowl LIV with situational pressures and batted down passes. This year, he’s aiming to once again make an impact on the game’s biggest stage — and earn the respect from the league as it’s most dominant defender.