The Kansas City Chiefs will play in what is arguably the most anticipated game of the NFL season on Sunday when they host the Buffalo Bills on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. And as announced on Friday, they will do so without two of their top three cornerbacks, turning instead to two Day 3 rookies against MVP-caliber quarterback Josh Allen.
Rookie first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie, who returned to practice this week after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 1, is not expected to be activated from injured reserve — despite being eligible.
"I would probably lean the other way," said head coach Andy Reid about McDuffie's chance to play. "I'd probably just rest him up this week. He had a good week of practice. There's a good chance we rest him up. I just haven't had a chance to talk to the guys yet."
Reid also ruled out veteran cornerback Rashad Fenton, who injured his hamstring late in Monday night's 30-29 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. With L'Jarius Sneed and seventh-round pick Jaylen Watson expected to start outside, that means fourth-rounder Joshua Williams will enter the game when Sneed slides inside in the nickel.
Reid expressed confidence in Williams when he spoke to the media on Friday.
"Special teams has helped him with the speed of the game and the angles you need to take and all those things," said the head coach of Williams, who has played around half of the Chiefs' special teams snaps in the first five games. "Now it's just a matter of getting in and playing and trusting your technique and fundamentals. I think [Williams is] looking forward to it. He worked well this week."
Speaking to reporters in the locker room, Williams revealed that earlier in the week, the Chiefs' defensive coaches told him he would be the next man up.
"These coaches have been preparing us since we got in," said Williams. "Everybody from the top of the depth chart to the bottom — to play like you're a starter. We prepare well. Everybody on the depth chart is prepared. I'm treating this just like any other game, man. I do my due diligence. I practiced well throughout the week — follow my technique, my keys, my assignments, take the coaching — and I'll be ready. We're not going to skip a beat."
Williams entered Monday night's game for the final two plays after Fenton was injured. That included the game-winning, now-infamous play in which wide receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow crashed into each other. Williams was one-on-one against Adams on the play.
Williams' first defensive snaps since Week 1 equated to about 10 seconds of game time, but he noted it was meaningful when it comes to his confidence as he looks ahead to what is likely to be the first start of his career.
"I always try to stay confident regardless, but it definitely gave me a sense of, 'OK. I felt like I could go in and do it — and I did it.' Heading into this game, like I said, if I follow my coaching, make sure I have a good understanding of the plays [and] the game plan, it's not going to be too much. It's not going to be like I have a big load on my plate. I'm doing what I need to do: handle my assignments and everything will work out."
His teammates have also been there to guide him along.
"Every day after practice, me and [Williams], we get work in," said Sneed. "After practice, [we] do a little work. I know he's been ready. He's just waiting on his name to be called.
"I've just tried to make him comfortable because I've been in that situation as well when I was a rookie, and I've just tried to make him comfortable for the game at this stage right now. That's about it — talking with him throughout the week."
When McDuffie was injured in Week 1, many thought that the Chiefs could turn to Williams — especially given the fact he was drafted three rounds earlier than Watson. But Watson was the choice — likely the right one — as it was the seventh-rounder that made the biggest play of the game: a 99-yard interception return touchdown in which the Chiefs took a lead they never relinquished.
Williams never got down on himself in that moment, instead turning to Watson to help him get better.
"I didn't take it any kind of way. I took it as, 'OK. Let me step my game up and take some notes from him,'" explained Willaims. "Do what he's doing, ask him questions about the playbook and he's always willing to help me out with it. I appreciate all of the DB room. They're all very helpful.
"It's never a sense of like, 'OK. Well, they got this guy over me. This guy got drafted here.' It's more of, 'OK, let's just get this done. Let's win some games.' There's no, 'I want to start over this guy.' I feel like we're all just trying to compete and win games and win the Super Bowl.'"
And winning a title will likely mean beating the Bills, who feature a high-powered offense that includes Allen, a star receiver in Stefon Diggs and a breakout player in Gabe Davis.
And given the game is on CBS in the late window, Williams understands he is getting his opportunity with the world watching.
"It's definitely a spotlight," said Williams. "[Diggs and Davis are] great players. But like I said, even last week, I only had two defensive snaps and one of them was like a game-defining moment, so you just have to be ready. It's not like I've just been slacking off all season. I've been working, getting with Jaylen and Sneed, all the other corners. McDuffie. We work as a unit and we're always just making sure we're ready."
Among those watching closely will be Williams' father.
"They always believed in me. They always thought I could be out there... my dad, he doesn't think too much of it. He's just saying, 'Go out there and do what you do.' And that's what I'm going to do.
"I'm going to go out there and play ball."