The Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive leaders have made it clear: at this point in the season, the players in their young backfield have enough experience to move past their rookie labels. And defensive backs coach Dave Merritt agrees with them.
“[I] just let them know, ‘Hey, you’re at a point in the season that you’re not rookies any longer,’” Merritt told reporters before Thursday’s practice. “But the guys have got to understand that it’s a faceless opponent every time. There’s certain guys that you want to take out — but technique-wise, you have to make sure [that] you’re executing it.
“Hopefully, throughout the season you continue to get better — and that’s what they’ve done.”
The buzz surrounding the youthful secondary has been a prevailing narrative for the Chiefs this season. But all along, Merritt has wanted his young players to disregard the heightened focus on their rookie status.
“When they all first came in,” explained the coach, “the thing is that I just wanted those guys to make sure [that] they felt comfortable with understanding that although you may have a ‘rookie’ behind your name or title… you have to understand that right now when you’re going against the guy in front of you, your technique is going to supersede whatever type of title that they put on you.”
The ongoing rotation between cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams has been a topic of discussion in recent weeks. But Merritt is pleased with it.
“Right now, both of those guys have proven us right as far as when we drafted them,” he noted. “We thought that both guys could become players for us. But we’ve rotated both of them in there. They’re both deserving — and we’re going to continue to do it.”
While rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie was out with an injury during the first half of the season, both Watson and Williams got substantial playing time. Now that McDuffie has returned, the team has been able to create many different looks in the secondary.
“Having J-Wat and also J-Wilms going in and out, playing the other corner position has allowed us to have a little flexibility and put them on a rotation,” said Merritt. “But having Trent and some of the other rookies like B-Cook [Bryan Cook] stepping up – even Nazeeh Johnson on special teams — these guys have all improved as the season has gone on.”