With roster cuts coming no later than 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) this Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is evaluating each defender and their ability at contribute to the 53-man roster. Tough decisions will have to be made — particularly along the defensive line and the secondary.
One of the most significant qualities he’s looking for is the ability for one defender to play multiple roles effectively. Along the defensive line, Spagnuolo will utilize players who can line up both outside and inside.
“Typically, you have the guys that play outside that can go inside on third down or a passing down; we got a few of those,” Spagnuolo told reporters on Monday. “[Chiefs defensive tackle] Chris Jones is the only guy that we would ever take from the inside and move out; we had to do it a little bit last year because of injury, so hopefully that doesn’t happen. He’s always pulling at me to go out there and play defensive end. I think he asks me every day.”
Spagnuolo does tend to maximize his defensive line’s pass rush by substituting an interior defensive lineman with a defensive end like Tanoh Kpassagnon or Alex Okafor.
Similarly, Spagnuolo maximizes the efficiency of the defensive secondary by playing safeties who can do more than most others.
“In this age of football, being flexible throughout the 11 positions on defense is really important,” Spagnuolo emphasized. “The cornerback position is unique, but we have safeties that can be linebackers — like Daniel Sorensen does for us. Safeties that can play the slot — like Tyrann Mathieu does for us... I think anytime you can be flexible and versatile it’s going to help your overall defense.”
Spagnuolo sees it as part of football’s evolution; he’s been coaching professional football for more than 20 years — and he’s adjusted along the way.
“Way back when, with three wide outs in, typically you’d throw another corner in the game,” Spagnuolo recalled. “With the tempo of the offense now, you don’t get a chance to do that. If you don’t have safeties that have versatility, you’re really restricted with what you call.”
One of the newest additions to the Chiefs secondary is already proving his value as a movable piece. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton has received praise from special teams coordinator Dave Toub for his skills at gunner, but he is also getting the opportunity to make an impact on defense.
“It shows that I’m very versatile,” Hamilton told reporters on Monday. “Because I can cover anybody that they put out there — where it’s big, small, quick, fast or slow.”
In the last practice of Chiefs training camp on Saturday, Hamilton did see plays with the first-team defense. He showed reps lining up on the outside and in the slot. Regardless of the spot, the Chiefs offense is giving Hamilton plenty of practice.
“The speed and the amount of reps that we are able to obtain in the different periods at practice is just crazy,” said Hamilton, who has previously played with the Las Vegas Raiders and New York Giants. “Like the speed and how the offense works, we get a lot of work in, and so I’m able to get 10 reps in corner, 10 reps at nickel, 10 reps at safety... So I’m learning — and I’m able to make a mistake, get it corrected and then still be able to go out and put it on tape.”
Spagnuolo was also asked about free-agent defensive end Taco Charlton’s responsibility in the defense, saying he would “like to think he’s more than” just a pass rusher — and is hoping he gets to the point where “he helps us on all downs.”
As many players as the team did bring back from 2019, they will be missing multiple key contributors at the start — including cornerback Bashaud Breeland and defensive tackle Mike Pennel, who will both begin the season with suspensions. To make up for these absences, Spagnuolo will be relying on the flexibility and versatility of his players.