Kansas City Chiefs defensive leader Tyrann Mathieu did not practice all week leading into Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns. The star safety was first reported to be heading to the Reserve/COVID-19 list on September 1, and he has not been able to find his way off.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid still had no answers during his brief media session on Friday.
“We’re just going to see how it goes,” said head coach Andy Reid. “The other guys at practice are ready to go. If he can’t go, he can’t go. If he can, then he can.”
Replacing Mathieu, the player
So Mathieu may now be in line to legitimately miss his first game as a Chief (he rested Week 17 last year with all the other starters). That should mean more playing time for third-year safety Juan Thornhill, who had an interesting training camp in his own right.
Because he missed OTA (organized team activities) sessions, the Chiefs had Thornhill report to St. Joseph three days early with the rookies and quarterbacks.
“He missed all of that OTA time,” explained defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo back in late August. “Juan and I talked; I thought that set him back a little bit mentally. We have a few wrinkles here and there.”
After Thornhill recovered from an early-camp groin injury, he mixed with the first team, second team and sometimes the third team.
Then there was a breakthrough of sorts, when he recorded a diving interception against the Arizona Cardinals in the Chiefs’ second preseason game.
“I’m back,” the 25-year-old declared after the game. “There were times last season I was doubting myself. I was never 100% — I just had to fight through the pain. This offseason, I’ve just attacked it. I’m trying to get my knee back to 100%, and I can definitely say I’m back.”
The Chiefs seem to agree.
“If Juan has to play, he’ll do fine,” assured Reid on Friday. “He’s had a good week of practice — a couple weeks of practice here — so we have full trust in him.”
Replacing Mathieu, the communicator
One of the luxuries Mathieu provides the Chiefs — one that might be underrated — is his ability to ensure the defense is in proper position before the snap. If he can’t suit up on Sunday, that aspect of his play will no doubt be missed — especially against the Browns’ up-and-coming offense.
Thus, over-communication has been a point of emphasis for the Chiefs this week.
“He’s one of the better players in this league,” said linebacker Anthony Hitchens. “I would love to have him out there. Unfortunately, we don’t know that yet, so we’ve just been communicating even extra this week from the front to the back — and it’s going to take more than just one guy. It’s a team-collective effort and multiple guys talking, coming out of their shells, doing things they’re not used to doing, just talking a little extra.
“Spags, he’s been on us all week about communication, things like that, so I think we’ll be all right on the communication end.”
The Chiefs have until 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Saturday to activate Mathieu from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Spagnuolo said on Thursday that if he cannot play, the Chiefs will be prepared.