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Steve Spagnuolo shares high praises for three new faces on Chiefs

We’re starting to get a sense about how the Chiefs might use the three new D-linemen upon whom the Chiefs will depend in 2020.

Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It looks like the Kansas City Chiefs will begin their season with 10 defensive linemen against the Houston Texans on Thursday night. Three of them are completely new to the team.

Defensive end Taco Charlton — a former first-round pick who had the misfortune to be stuck behind established starters with both the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins — joined the Chiefs in May, right after the team expended a fifth-round pick to acquire former Michigan defensive end Michael Danna and signed Missouri Science & Technology defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton as an undrafted free agent.

Charlton came to the team with 12 NFL starts over his three previous seasons, so there were at least some expectations about what a player with 67 tackles (42 solo, 11 for loss) nine sacks, 16 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles over that span could do.

“Listen, he’s has been around the league a little bit,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of Charlton on Monday. “He’s long — every time I walk behind him, I think he’s growing. Maybe I’m shrinking. Who knows? But listen: he’s got a skill set. We’re going to try to get him in the right spots.”

But we knew little about Danna — who had an unspectacular senior season for the Wolverines after three solid seasons at Central Michigan — or Wharton, who suddenly burst onto everyone’s radar a week ago, when ESPN’s James Palmer reported he was a near-lock to make the team’s final roster.

In fact, it wasn’t until general manager Brett Veach’s press conference on Sunday that some reporters knew Danna’s name was pronounced “DAY-nuh” — not “DAN-nuh” There had been no reason to know; his name simply hadn’t come up amid all the offseason questions about Tanoh Kpassagnon, Breeland Speaks and Chris Jones. And until Spagnuolo spoke on Monday, no one knew Wharton’s nickname: Turk.

But among themselves, the coaches had been talking about both of them for a while.

“We’ve been really pleasantly surprised with a couple of guys that have come in here [that] we really didn’t know a lot about,” said Spagnuolo. “Talking about Turk Wharton — he’s been a nice surprise — [defensive line coach] Brendan Daly’s done a great job with him.

“Mike Danna [was] another pleasant surprise. Those two guys — talking about Turk and Mike — listen, for guys that have not been in the NFL very long, they sure operate like true pros. The learned it somewhere along the way. We noticed it in those Zoom meetings. I remember (defensive line) coach (Brendan) Daly talking about both of those guys specifically — how much he was looking forward to working with them, because in these meetings like [we’re] doing right now, he was thoroughly impressed. Those two guys have just continually impressed the coaches.”

As Spagnuolo hinted with regard to Charlton, Wharton might be used both inside and outside; he played as defensive end for the Miners in Rolla, but the Chiefs have listed him as a defensive tackle. And we might see much the same from Danna.

“Danna looks like a guy who kind of has a little bit of both,” said Spagnuolo. “He was at Michigan a guy who played inside — by ‘both,’ I mean first- and second-down run-stopper, and I think he can get on the edge and give us a little bit in the pass. I don’t know if we’ll get to get him inside or what his role will be completely; probably try to sprinkle some things in there for him initially.”

It’s not surprising that Spagnuolo was so noncommittal about where (and how) he would use these three newcomers — that’s something for him to know and for Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly to only guess about — but he was pretty clear that all three will see playing time behind starters Kpassagnon, Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Frank Clark.

“Listen: when you go in the first game — I don’t know how many D-linemen we’ll carry to the active list — all of those guys are going to have to play; whoever’s up,” he declared. “Guys [who] haven’t played 60 minutes — I mean, I hope we don’t play 83 plays like we did the first time we played them — but however many number of plays we play, the D-line’s going to have to rotate. So whoever’s up will get some playing time in there.”