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Willie Gay’s newfound scheme understanding makes Chiefs defense dangerous

Second-year linebacker Willie Gay is playing faster than last season at this time due to a better understanding of the playbook.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason is finally over (and I say finally, even though traditionally, we would have one more game to endure). 23-0 is still in play for the Kansas City Chiefs — and that’s what we all really care about, right?

I digress. A light needs to be shined on the development of linebacker Willie Gay.

Last year, Gay was only on the field for 25% of the team’s defensive snaps. Despite limited action, Gay’s athleticism flashed through the television screen. The ability to make plays sideline to sideline is something this team didn’t have until now. Now, it should be easier to play fast since Gay has a much better understanding of the playbook.

“I’m to the point now mentally where I see the same thing I see in practice,” said Gay after his three-tackle game against the Minnesota Vikings. “And I know that comes with time and repetition — so it’s definitely helped me a lot.”

During the Minnesota Vikings' first drive, Gay made an impressive play to interrupt a Kirk Cousins pass near the line.

“Like I was telling a lot of people over training camp, they asked me about me knowing the scheme — I did my job, and the play came right to me, really,” he said. “I broke on it — and it was the perfect play.”

Gay continued.

“To get some action, whether it’s a tackle in the hole or it can be something simple as a pass breakup,” he said. “Just being in a game, doing what you’re doing, and being able to make a play because you’re doing what you’re supposed to, it lets you know that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”

When national analysts speak about the Chiefs’ 2021 defense, the first two names always mentioned are Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Jones. Shocker, right?

And Mathieu and Jones deserve all the praise they get. Their career resumes speak for themselves — and they are tasked with patrolling the back line and front line of the defense. Add linebacker Anthony Hitchens — the Chiefs’ veteran leader in the middle to that mix.

Gay’s upside has no ceiling, and even though he’s only entering his sophomore season, his newfound defensive understanding comes off way beyond his years.

“I think we’re doing pretty good, man,” Gay said of the defense. “Of course, you can never be perfect, but you can shoot for it each and every week, learn from any mistakes you made and keep getting better. We’re in the NFL, so everybody’s going to get yards, everybody’s going to score here and there. So, you just have to fix your mistakes when you can and fix it for the next week.”

If Gay reaches the potential most believe he has, this defense will have high-level playmakers on all three levels.

A lot of teams in the NFL can’t say that.