Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took the podium three days ago with no definitive answer as to how the team plans to replace cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who will miss the first four games of the 2020 season due to a suspension. That stretch includes games against the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots.
But looking at the Chiefs’ roster, the question can be narrowed down to a few names: second-year player Rashad Fenton, fifth-year player Antonio Hamilton and rookie L’Jarius Sneed.
The starting cornerback on the other side, Charvarius Ward, registered 1,048 regular-season defensive snaps last year. The other three have just 365 in their combined careers.
Chiefs defensive backs Sam Madison spoke to the media on Thursday, shining some light on the possibilities.
As the only one of the three who returns from Spagnuolo’s 2019 defense, Fenton may have the best chance to temporarily replace Breeland.
“Since Rashad has come here from South Carolina last year, a late-round draft pick, he’s just been working extremely hard,” Madison explained. “You saw later on in the season (2019), coach Spags was able to develop him and allow him to play special teams — but yet still continue to put him in position where we played him a lot at nickel last year.”
Fenton primarily played in the slot for the Chiefs in 2019. He finished with 116 regular-season snaps and 67 playoff snaps in the slot (according to Pro Football Focus). He saw 39 regular-season snaps (including 35 in Week 17) and two in the postseason on the outside (both in Super Bowl LIV).
Madison said the team told Fenton to be prepared to play both inside and outside as he entered 2020’s training camp.
“He knew his exact role — he was going to be a dual guy, so he’s playing faster,” added Madison. “Now having an opportunity to mix him in with the ones, with the twos, playing corner, playing nickel, it’s put a lot on his plate, but yet still making sure that he understands that he’s going to be needed in those roles later on during the season, so with him, he is working hard every single day.
“I really like his work ethic that he’s putting in. He’s making some plays, he’s around the ball — his quickness. He shows some burst throughout the course of this camp, so he did a lot of work on the offseason. We’re just going to put him in the best position to be able to make plays for us.”
Then there is the player the Chiefs drafted to play outside cornerback — the rookie, Sneed.
“Any guy that comes into this training camp... we’re looking for them to be able to help us down the road,” Madison said of Sneed, before being brutally honest regarding his learning curve. “L’Jarius, he’s picking up the lingo — is he picking it up as fast as we want him to? No, but he is working at it, and at this point, he’s feeling comfortable.”
Madison said that Sneed has had an opportunity to play cornerback with the first and second teams.
“When you’re with the ones, all they do is communicate,” Madison said. “Tyrann Mathieu — he tells everybody what to do. He knows what he’s supposed to do, and having somebody communicate those things to you, that quickly, now you can go out and play fast. We didn’t have to work with him on his foot speed or with his quickness, being aggressive at the line of scrimmage — he came with those tools after being able to watch film. The scouts putting that in front of us and having an opportunity to make a decision to be able to bring him in.
“So with that, just having the opportunity to put him in those positions, to understand the speed of college versus the NFL and having to do it over and over. You don’t have to go to class anymore. This is your classwork every single day. So being in that playbook, being in that iPad, understanding the different calls and the different situations that coach (Steve Spagnuolo) is trying to put you in, as well as coach (Andy) Reid putting in those different situations, and then going out and executing. To be able to see him run downfield and when he was at the Combine, having the opportunity to talk to him, and knowing what he likes to do, it just was a pretty good match for us, so he’s just got to do it every single play, every single day and just learn how to become a pro in the National Football League.”
Sneed spent his final year at Louisiana Tech at the safety position due to team need. That no doubt meant improved versatility, but it sounds as though Sneed remains a step behind.
At the time of this writing, he still has two weeks to figure it out.
And then there is the four-year veteran who special teams coordinator Dave Toub said is “in the lead” to be a gunner for the Chiefs this season. In his four NFL seasons, Hamilton has never been afforded the opportunity to consistently start at cornerback, but the Chiefs coaching staff has liked what they have seen.
“He’s very smart,” Madison said, describing Hamilton. “We talk to a lot of people where he came from — the (New York) Giants — and just understanding his strongpoints. Right now, we’re using him on the inside, we’re using him on the outside because he has done both in his career, so just trying to find the best pieces to the puzzle to put out there on the football field so we can win some games.
“He’s definitely going to have the opportunity to be able to help us in multiple positions and that was something — the same thing that Kendall Fuller was able to do for us last year.”
Who gives the Chiefs the best chance to win while Bashaud Breeland is out?
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