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Chiefs defensive linemen miss Turk Wharton, but are ready to step up

The third-year pro’s acclaimed work ethic will serve him well in the months ahead.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Kansas City Chiefs topped Las Vegas Raiders 30-29 on Monday Night Football, the win came at a cost. Third-year defensive tackle Tershawn ‘Turk’ Wharton was lost for the season when he suffered a torn ACL. Wharton had appeared in every 2022 game, delivering a sack on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady during Week 4’s 41-31 victory.

As a former undrafted free agent from Division II Missouri S&T, Wharton has already beaten the odds to make it in the NFL. Experience with Wharton’s work ethic made the news especially difficult for his teammates along Kansas City’s defensive line.

“Man, honestly everybody was hurt about that,” said defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi in the locker room before Thursday’s practice. “He’s one of those guys — good guys — who comes in, works hard running his butt off every single practice [and] every single drill. Always working; [a] hard worker.

“Ever since he got picked up here, I’ve always seen him as one of those types of guys. No matter what day — hail, snow, tornado — he’s coming to work. So to lose a guy like that? It hurts. My prayers are for him. Hopefully, he can bounce back stronger than he was before.”

Nnadi predicted that Wharton’s work ethic will aid in his recovery.

“Knowing him, he’s at a very strong mindset,” he said. “I check on him any chance I have between meetings. I feel like he’s going to be fine.”

The Chiefs will attempt to fill Wharton’s role with former Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth — whom they promoted from the practice squad on Wednesday. It appears that many Chiefs fans knew of the move before Stallworth did.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

“I found out the same day everyone else found out, honestly,” Stallworth recalled on Thursday. “Not even online. People [were] texting my phone, like, ‘Hey, congrats!’ I’m like, ‘On what? What are you talking about?’ Then I pull up to the facility — and that’s how I found out.”

After playing the past two full seasons with the Colts, Stallworth accepted a spot on the Chiefs practice squad after missing the final round of preseason cuts. He has tried to keep that disappointment in perspective — along with the reason he finds himself back on an active roster.

“It was something different,” he admitted. “That’s a pill that you’ve got to swallow. In this league — being in this league for a blessed five years now — you see the ins and outs. If you have that mindset of just coming in and working, at the end of the day, everything’s going to work out.

“It’s a blessing that I’m on a 53-man roster, but just how it happened is not a good thing. Having Turk go down — a wonderful young up-and-coming great player in this league. Seeing that happen — you know, next-man-up mentality — but at the same time, a bittersweet moment.”

Like Nnadi, Stallworth has been checking on his injured teammate — although for the time being, he’s been trying to move past on-the-field talk.

“We talk for a little bit every time I see him,” said Stallworth. “Every single day, I check up on him. But it’s more like a brother concerned about his other brother. Throw football out right now. [I] just hope that he comes to us 100% fully recovered.”

Although no player wants to earn playing time like Stallworth has, he remains excited for his first regular season game as a Chief — and to experience the home field crowd first hand.

“I’m especially excited just going out there to see how these guys play out here,” he explained. “Chiefs Kingdom — how they be electrified. It’s a different feeling. That’s something I’m so excited to be a part of.”

While replacing injured players is an unfortunate part of the game, Stallworth’s presence on the practice squad allowed the Chiefs to replace Wharton with a veteran player who has appeared in 50 career games. Nnadi believes his team has made the right move in turning to him.

“It’s how it is in this league,” the nose tackle declared. “It’s next man up — opportunities for anybody. When one guy gets hurt, the next man’s got to come up and do his part. I feel like [Stallworth] will do his best to do whatever he has to do in a short period of time. I feel like he’s going to have a great game.”

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