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Film review: Nick Bolton had a big day against the Chargers

The former Mizzou Tiger was everywhere on Thursday night.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie linebacker Nick Bolton was instrumental in the Kansas City Chiefs’ big 36-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night — especially considering the Kansas City defensive stars who were unavailable: defensive lineman Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Still, the rookie linebacker was able to fly all over the field for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

While Bolton has been the most impressive when tasked with stopping the run this season, it has been Gay who has excelled in pass coverage — but on this goal-line play from Thursday, Bolton does an excellent job. He reads Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert’s eyes well, saving a touchdown by reacting to the throw in time to jar it loose from wideout Mike Williams.

Here we see Bolton display his speed and athleticism, which was one of the biggest reasons general manager Brett Veach brought him to the organization. It’s a draw play — but Herbert’s pump-fake gets Bolton to widen a little. He is still able to recover in time to help take the ball carrier down for a minimal gain.

In what is perhaps Bolton’s best play of the game, he reads the play and is able to get a hand on the pass attempt — sending it into the air. Fellow linebacker Anthony Hitchens completes the play to create the turnover for the Chiefs. Bolton’s play is great — but his energy following the interception is infectious.

In this play, Bolton is barely on the screen prior to the snap — but then in a blur, he gets downhill, squeezes the line-of-scrimmage and tracks down running back Joshua Kelley from the back side.

It’s just another good example of how fast Bolton plays. For the foreseeable future, he and Gay will make a great combination in the middle of the defense.

But by himself, Bolton is going to cause plenty of headaches for opposing offensive coordinators.

He makes this play in the blink of an eye, making contact with Kelley at the line before the play can ever get going. He fills the gap, forcing the running back to bounce to Bolton’s help — where Hitchens is waiting.

On Thursday, Bolton was great at stopping the run — but by now, that is to be expected. In multiple instances, he also stepped up in pass coverage — which was less expected. He left SoFi Stadium with three deflected passes.

Here we see him stay home — and be in the right spot to make a play. This sort of misdirection can go for a big chunk of yardage but No. 54 makes sure that doesn’t happen.

Here is a good example of a pass deflection.

On one of the Chargers’ fourth-down attempts, Bolton quickly breaks on the route, timing it perfectly to knock the ball away. Given Bolton’s pre-snap alignment, this is not an easy route to cover — but he is all over it.

We saw him make a similar type of play numerous times.

With Bolton’s closing speed, there is just nothing the ball carrier can do. Coming unblocked from the back side, Bolton gets in behind the pulling tight end and easily runs down Justin Jackson for one of his 14 tackles during the game.

Bolton has yet to record his first career sack — but on this play, he came awfully close to taking Herbert down. This is a great example of how well he reads plays — and how quickly he is aware of what is happening. On the play-action, the ball isn’t hidden at all — which allows Bolton to knife through, getting his hands on Herbert before he can find anyone open. Herbert deserves credit for being able to throw this one away.

Bolton ran free a lot — and capitalized on those opportunities.

Here, Bolton gets through the mess to snag Jackson for limited yardage — demonstrating that he has a sixth sense to locate the ball.

When you pair his quickness in short areas with his natural speed, it’s a rare skillset.

The bottom line

When we discuss Kansas City’s 2021 rookie class, offensive linemen Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith get a lot of the love — but the first-year linebacker out of the University of Missouri has been solid for the Chiefs’ defense, too. As a whole, the team’s class is off to a great start — and down the road, we could see even more stars emerge. Thursday was Bolton’s best overall performance as a pro — but it is only the beginning.

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