A great deal will depend on what we see when the Kansas City Chiefs players put on their clean uniforms and go under the lights against the San Francisco 49ers in the first preseason game — which is just a week from Saturday.
But in the meantime, everybody is talking about former Western Kentucky safety Devon Key, whom the Chiefs signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2021 draft. Pete Sweeney’s eyebrows went up during Tuesday’s practice at Chiefs training camp.
Undrafted rookie Devon Key has my attention — started the team session on defense next to Tyrann Mathieu.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) August 3, 2021
In recent days, Chiefs coaches and players have been praising him.
“Real smart,” said head coach Andy Reid. “He’s done a nice job on the back end there — kind of controlling things and making sure everybody is doing the right things. Then he has enough skill there where he can go make some plays.”
“I think he’s an instinctive guy,” said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. “He’s in tune to everything. We’ve got him playing a couple [of] spots just to find out what he’s all about — and I’m really impressed right now.”
Fellow safety Daniel Sorensen weighed in, too.
“[Key is] picking up the defense really well,” he said, “which is probably the first hurdle for any rookie — being able to understand the scheme and how to play in this system — and he’s done that very well.”
Taking the press conference podium after Thursday’s training camp session at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Key said he credits his parents for his study habits.
“My mom and my dad always kind of pushed me to do more than the next person,” he said. “I put that upon myself, too — to spend the extra time looking at film, going over the playbook — just so I can come out here and be comfortable and not really think too much when I’m trying to make plays.”
Key said that the Chiefs coaches have figured that out.
“They know that I’m a quick learner,” he noted. “They kind of demand going in there and learning the playbook as quick as I can — spend time after if I need to. They really just want me to go out there and be comfortable in whatever position they put me in.”
Likely, the Chiefs had also noted his record with the Hilltoppers, where he became an immediate starter in his redshirt freshman season and started 49 of 50 games during the four seasons he played there. Key said that experience is also helping him.
“The kind of defense we had in college helped me translate to the kind of scheme we’re in with the Chiefs,” he explained. “We had — I would say — a pretty difficult defense in college.”
Still, it wasn’t enough to attract much attention in the NFL Draft. Round after round went by. But then his phone rang.
“Coach Reid called,” Key recalled. “Just that kind of made an impression on me — having the head coach call me. I thought that was pretty nice.”
Reid’s message was pretty simple.
“He just basically said, ‘You know, you deserved to get drafted. You had a successful career at Western.’ The Chiefs didn’t have any more picks left, so he was like, ‘If you don’t end up getting drafted, we’d love to have you.’”
That — and the team’s winning culture — was enough for Key.
“I’ve always said God has a plan for everybody,” he told reporters. “That was just his plan for me.”
Now that he’s in Kansas City, Key is happy with the choice he made — particularly with playing alongside three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu.
“Just watching him in college — when I was in high school — just seeing the type of ball player he was,” said Key. “He’s a great leader. He knows how to give me tips and stuff to just take out there on the field and kind of translate that to my game.”
Key said that he’s getting that kind of help from the rest of the team’s veteran players, too — and he loves the atmosphere.
“They’re just the kind of guys that love football,” he marveled. “I can tell every day — when guys come out here to work. And in the locker room, it’s always ball — just their passion for the game. That’s kind of why I enjoy playing with these guys.”
And Key said that he’s impressed with how the players interact with each other.
“The bond that everybody kind of creates in the locker room is really great,” he said. “They take on everybody — no matter if they’re the first-round pick or [an] undrafted guy — everybody’s just trying to create a bond.”
Key understands there are no guarantees; he’s an undrafted rookie trying to make a roster that’s consistently among the league’s best. He also knows that how he plays in the team’s exhibition games will have a lot to do with whether he makes the squad. So he is focused on that.
“It’s going to be a big moment for me — just going out there and making plays,” he said. “I’m still trying to make the team, so any opportunity I get to make a play is what I’m trying to do.”