For all the woes about the Kansas City Chiefs’ protection of quarterback Patrick Mahomes towards the end of last season, the team could’ve used some help getting after opposing signal-callers as well.
Specifically, they could’ve used another difference-maker rushing off the edge. Early in the year, it appeared that Taco Charlton could fill that niche role — but the fractured ankle he suffered in Week 9 ended his season prematurely. At that point in the year, Charlton was being used as a situational pass-rusher, getting quarterback pressure on 21.4% of his pass-rushing snaps.
Following training camp practice on Wednesday, Charlton reflected on the highs and lows of his lost season.
“It was tough,” he admitted to reporters. “Especially seeing my team out there go through the playoffs. I came here wanting to be a part of that history, so that part hurt me — but I was also happy to see them winning games, so it was a Catch-22: happy, but also hurt that I couldn’t be a part of their success.”
Considering he was playing on a one-year deal, it was especially rough for Charlton. The injury prevented the former first-round pick from proving that he deserved a multi-year contract. So when free agency opened, Charlton quickly re-signed with Kansas City; he wanted another chance at experiencing a deep playoff run with the team.
“I wanted to finish what I started,” Charlton declared. “I feel like I got off to a good start and I wanted to help this team do some things — and injury took that away from me. I wanted to come back and finish what I initially started and what I initially wanted to do: help this team and help this defense out.”
That hunger for success is what drove Charlton back to the Chiefs — and he’s not alone in feeling motivation from last season. The entire team was embarrassed in Super Bowl LV — and Charlton said he can sense that motivation from his teammates.
“I believe lot of guys are hungry,” he emphasized. “They have a point to prove. I believe the bond we have as a unit is great — and that camaraderie is what is going to help us succeed.”
Charlton’s deal is another one-year contract — meaning that he once again has a lot to prove. He’s grateful for the normal offseason this time around — but last training camp, he didn’t have to deal with the lingering effects of an injury. While it hasn’t yet held him out of practice, it is still giving him pains.
“It has its good days, and it has its bad days,” said Charlton. “Some days, I feel great and feel like my old self. Some days after banging around, I may come back and it's a little sore, hurting me a little bit... I try to push through it, and I’m just happy to be out there and be able to do something.”
Since his physical capabilities were limited over the last year, Charlton worked to improve the mental aspect of his game.
“I watched film of a lot of guys while I was hurt,” Charlton noted. “[I watched] their pass rush moves. I was watching a lot of football. I got to pick up on different moves and different techniques that a lot of guys do to help them succeed. Now I’ll try stuff out there — see what works and see what doesn’t — and put stuff in my game.”
Charlton isn’t the only one trying things out. The Kansas City defensive staff is experimenting with things like Chris Jones playing defensive end. Teammate Jarran Reed wanted it known that the entire front is versatile — and Charlton echoed that sentiment.
“We have a lot of moving pieces,” he acknowledged. “Where guys can play one position, so no matter who’s in and who’s out, the next guy can pick up and keep going and keep helping the team succeed. It’s great to have another starting four basically behind the starting four to come in and keep the pressure on the offense.”
Two starting defensive lines on one team? That’s what Charlton believes the Chiefs have right now — and he’s a big part of that quality depth. If he does finish what he started last season, he could be one of the defense’s most important role players.