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Chiefs training camp notebook: Brendan Daly’s defensive line is shining at ‘21 camp

The unit is shaping up well as the regular season draws near.

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

As has been noted, it was the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line that made the greatest impact in preseason Game 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. On Tuesday after training camp in St. Joseph, defensive line coach Brendan Daly joined the media to brag about the line, which registered six quarterback hits in Saturday night’s game — including five sacks.

Defensive lineman Chris Jones had the team’s first sack while lined up as a tackle. The 27-year-old is undergoing a transition to defensive end.

The Chris Jones transition

“It’s going well,” said Daly of Jones’ move to more of a hybrid player. “I’d say it’s a work in progress, but so far, so good. He’s done a great job in terms of learning things mentally. There’s a number of things that are unique and different for him out there that he’s worked really hard to get under his belt. I’d say there are things still coming up that, yeah, he probably hasn’t had a whole lot of that yet, we just need time on the job a little bit. It’s going well so far.”

The positional switch for Jones is unique in the sense that it's more a switch to a hybrid than outright end.

“We’re going to move him around and use him to the best of our ability — and his ability, if that makes sense,” added Daily. “Based on the bodies that we have available and that may change based on game plans sometimes; it may change on availability of the rest of the group. The versatility, I think, it gives us some great options and great flexibility.”

Jones’ transition to defensive end was only made possible by the Chiefs’ offseason acquisition of defensive lineman Jarran Reed, who is one of the league’s better tackles.

“He’s been fantastic to work with,” said Daly of Reed. “He’s got a very high football IQ. He’s smart, he enjoys football, he’s fun to be around in terms of when you tell him something, when you correct something, he gets it, he fixes it, he understands how you want it done. It may be different from what he’s used to, but he’s got a very broad base of football knowledge from college — and his time in Seattle that has helped him adapt, to be honest. It helped him learn things pretty quickly.”

There had been much anticipation of what the Reed addition could mean for Frank Clark, considering the two players shared the best year of their careers in 2018. Daly said the Chiefs’ hope was to expand Clark’s defensive role for the upcoming season, but that has been difficult considering his lack of availability.

After a hamstring issue last week, Clark missed the Chiefs’ first preseason game.

“He’s been dealing with some injury issues right now in and out of the practice,” said Daly. “We just got to get him back out there and get him reps and consistently rolling. He’s done a great job — and I would say there’s another guy [tha] from a mental standpoint, he’s grown. He’s got a much better understanding of the scheme in Year 3, relative to where it was when we first got him. That’s been really good in terms of that evolution.”


The returning standouts

While Jones, Reed and Clark are the big names to know, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders has been recently making the case to revamp his young career. Daly noted how many good practices Saunders had pieced together ahead of the Chiefs’ game against the 49ers — and then Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had called out his number in his post-game press conference.

“It’s been great to see,” Daly said of Saunders. “I’d say he’s had the best training camp he’s had since he’s been with us. I’m pleased with the way he’s working. He’s expanded his role. One of the things that jumps out to me about Khalen, he’s one of the smartest guys in the room. He understands adjustments, the calls, the schemes. A very, very high football IQ, which is impressive to me.”

Second-year defensive end Mike Danna has also shown to have taken a step forward, according to Daly.

“When you come into a program, your responsibility is to earn a role,” said Daly. “He did that last year. Then you want to maximize that role, and then you look for ways to expand that role. Mike Danna has done that. He has expanded his role. He’s doing some different things for us. He’s moving around to some different spots. He’s been able to handle it. He’s handled a little bit more [of a] communication role. He’s hit that mark.”

The Chiefs selected Danna in the fifth round of last year’s draft. They found Turk Wharton as an undrafted free agent from Missouri S&T in Rolla, Missouri.

“He’s in that same category as Mike Danna in terms of a guy that has expanded his role, has improved what he’s doing in his primary role and found other ways that hopefully are going to help the team win.”

Daly specifically highlighted what he said was Wharton’s fantastic work ethic.

“If you watch this guy practice, it’s a thousand miles an hour,” concluded Daly. “He doesn’t seem to get tired. He’s got a relentless energy and effort about him, and he’s got a really good skill set. He’s explosive, he’s powerful. He’s got good quickness.”

Daly’s room has become one with many names to be aware of — a good problem to have at this time of year.

Observations

  • The weather in St. Joseph Tuesday morning was partly cloudy, with the temperature in the high-70s to start the workout at 9:15 a.m. The Chiefs were back in pads.
  • Running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams — and tight ends Travis Kelce and Noah Gray — had strong days in one-on-one pass protection drills. Linebacker Willie Gay is usually a very tough ask for the blockers in these drills, but I noticed a nice rep from Williams on Tuesday. Both Gay and fellow linebacker Ben Niemann recorded pass breakups in coverage during one-on-ones.
  • In receiver-defensive back one-on-ones, cornerback Charvarius Ward managed to have some good reps against wide receiver Tyreek Hill. As expected, Hill also got the better of Ward a few times. Safety Daniel Sorensen, safety Juan Thornhill, defensive back Marlon Character, defensive back Dicaprio Bootle and cornerback BoPete Keyes all managed to record pass breakups.
  • Continuing with one-on-one notes, Rashad Fenton intercepted Anthony Gordon on a rep against wide receiver Dalton Schoen. Defensive back Chris Lammons later intercepted a pass intended for Ffrench.
  • In 11-on-11s, Mike Hughes continued to get the work at right outside cornerback in the nickel. Offensive lineman Lucas Niang continued to get all the work at right tackle.
  • Offensive line coach Andy Heck on Niang after practice: “We’re a ways away from anointing anybody, but I’d say that Lucas has definitely demonstrated the physical abilities. He’s everything we hoped for in a draft pick there. A big, athletic guy that will use his hands well in protection. He’s off to a great start. I will say we’ve got a lot of competition here in this group.”
  • Following up on our first report of the week, safety Juan Thornhill did get a handful of reps with the first team on Tuesday. He remains a player to watch for the remainder of the preseason.
  • Kicker Harrison Butker was a perfect 8 for 8 in field-goal work — on kicks ranging from around 35 yards to around 55-60. When he spoke to the media after practice, special teams coordinator Dave Toub did not seem worried about his extra-point miss on Saturday.
  • The defensive line-offensive line drills continue to be highly entertaining, with the feature matchup being Chris Jones and Trey Smith. Both took turns winning reps on Tuesday, with Jones tossing Smith on one turn — only for Jones to end up on his back on the next rep. Jones and Smith appear to be two of the best in their respective positions in the NFL; it is still amazing Smith fell to the sixth round. Other standouts in this look were Nick Allegretti, Joshua Kaindoh, Niang and Saunders.
  • Defensive lineman Taco Charlton snatched a batted ball from Chad Henne out of the air in team work late in practice. Wide receiver Cornell Powell had a noticeable drop on a pass that hit him right in the hands.

Press conferences (Spotify)

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Injury report

  • Returned to practice: Linebacker Riley Cole (ankle sprain)
  • Did not participate in team drills (injury): n/a
  • Did not practice/not in pads (due to injury): Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (hand), defensive end Malik Herring (ACL), right guard Kyle Long (tibia)
  • Did not practice (COVID-19 list): n/a
  • Left practice early (injury): Defensive end Demone Harris (oblique), defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (hip flexor), defensive tackle Jarran Reed (cramping)
  • Injured at practice Tuesday: Defensive end Frank Clark (hamstring)

Tweet of the day

Our John Dixon compiled all of Tuesday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:

Quote of the day

NFL: JAN 29 Super Bowl LIV - Chiefs Press Conference Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub on whether he is ready to break camp Wednesday: “Yes. I’m ready to break camp. You know? It’s hard to come back — like after a preseason [game] — come back again. You’re back here, you know? St. Joe is great, but I’m 59 years old, and I’m sleeping in a dorm room. It’s just... it’s kind of hard.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs return to the field Wednesday at 8:15 a.m. (an earlier practice time) for their final 2021 practice in St. Joseph. It is Military Appreciation Day. After the workout, head coach Andy Reid and several players will speak to the media.