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Juan Thornhill says he’s ‘putting himself at the top of the list’ in 2021

It’s taken a long time for the Chiefs safety to recover from his 2019 ACL injury — but he says he’s ready to go in 2021.

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

When Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks and rookies reported on Friday, head coach Andy Reid said several veteran players — including Juan Thornhill — had also reported early while working through injuries.

This was a surprise to many Chiefs observers, who had been unaware that the third-year safety was injured. But when he appeared before reporters after Sunday’s practice, Thornhill said it wasn’t a new injury. Instead, he said he’s been working to return to 100% from the knee injury he suffered during Week 17 of the 2019 season — a process that started during OTAs.

“I just wanted to work a little more on my knee, just to make sure I was 100% for the season,“ he explained. “I still got some work out there. I was beside coach Spags (Steve Spagnuolo), communicating calls. I got individual drills to get my legs moving. I wasn’t completely out of it. It was more of a mental thing, so I could get back in camp and be 100%.”

In retrospect, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. After returning him to the starting lineup in 2020, the Chiefs had dialed back his use during the latter part of the season.

Even then, Chiefs players and coaches acknowledged that while he was physically recovered from the ACL injury that had caused him to miss the 2019 postseason, he still didn’t feel completely comfortable with it.

“I’ve been through [an] ACL twice,” fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu told reporters in late November. “I remember when I went through my ACL, it wasn’t until a year [or] two years after until I really began to feel like myself again.”

It looks like Thornhill has followed a similar schedule. But now, he says he’s getting closer and closer to being a full-go.

“The knee feels great,” he told reporters. “I love that coach brought me out here for this little camp right here, because I got a chance to get moving and get my feet back underneath me. But I feel better than I have in a long time.”

And he admitted that during the 2020 campaign, he wasn’t quite there.

“Like I had to tell myself, ‘OK, it’s going to hurt, but you’ve got to play through it,’” he recalled. “So that’s why when the end of the season came, you saw me making more plays, just because it’s more mental. I just pushed myself through that mental block.”

Thornhill confirmed that he and Mathieu had discussed what to expect — and the veteran safety had been spot-on.

“He was telling me that there were going to be some times that I was frustrated,” he said. “I was going to be like a step slower on a play — or things like that. And I saw it during the season. There were multiple times I could have made an interception — or knocked the ball down — but I was half a second too late.”

But with another offseason to recover — and being careful about working himself back into the practice routines — Thornhill said he’s ready to play at the level we saw during his rookie season.

“I’m putting myself at the top of the list,” he declared. “I’m going to compete with Tyrann. Tyrann is a heckuva player. We compete every single day. He says he’s going to get an interception this game? I say, ‘Well, I’m going to get two.’ That’s how we compete against each other.”

And Thornhill said that his teammates are at the top of the list, too.

“We don’t shoot for nothing less than the Super Bowl,” he said.