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Willie Gay Jr. says rebuilt defense ‘hypes me up to go even harder’

The Kansas City linebacker is ready to shift the focus to Arizona.

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Although Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. has lately developed a reputation for hyping up those around him as the “Juice Man,” he revealed on Tuesday that he is drawing motivation from the effort of his young teammates.

“You’ve seen the young guys add on and just really come in,” Gay remarked to reporters before the team’s practice at the Truman Sports Complex. “They know the defense well [and] we didn’t have to slow it down for them or anything. To see that, to get those guys adding on the defense at the back end, the defensive ends, linebackers, they added on a great piece to this whole defense.”

Gay said that to him, all of the rookie defensive backs who have joined the team look really good.

“When they added on to this defense, it makes me, in Year 3, feel like we’re going to be special this year,” he said. “It hypes me up to go even harder because I know we can be a special group.”

Gay now finds himself to be the most experienced linebacker in the team’s defense. Even at such a young age, he recognizes his importance in the room.

“Me and [Darius] Harris,” he noted, “I think we’re the older two in the room that’s been here. They’ve got younger guys now that I try to help out a lot. I guess I do take the leadership role a little. I just try to lead and do my part and make sure whenever they see me, they see me doing the right thing — on the field and off.”

Part of that leadership involves helping some of his young colleagues prepare for a cruel reality: though the roster currently stands at 80 players, the team must cut it to 53 players by 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Tuesday.

“All through training camp — my linebacker guys — I tell them all the time, ‘Man, you’re blessed just to be here,’” Gay explained. “I remember guys getting cut after the first preseason game — and we haven’t had anyone get cut from my linebacker room as of now.

“I told them, ‘No matter what happens tomorrow, just be thankful you’re on an NFL roster at this point. So just look where your feet are and don’t look ahead. Be blessed and thankful for what you do have.’”

One player Gay knows will be at his side is fellow linebacker Nick Bolton, who led the team in tackles after being selected in the second round of 2021’s NFL Draft.

“Nick is a lot more comfortable now,” he observed. “When you come into a whole new building, a whole new area, city, state — whatever it may be — defense, team, you got to get comfortable. It’s hard to just have a rookie come in and be the same person he was for three, four years when he was in college. It all takes time — and he’s definitely got there now.”

At only 24 years old, Gay carries a large amount of the leadership burden — but he also said that a familiar face still has his ear: former Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

NFL: JAN 16 AFC Wild Card - Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I actually was talking to him a week ago,” revealed Gay. “I still stay in contact with him about some things. I’m one of the older guys now, so I still talk to him a lot of times and ask him for advice. He played eight years in this league, so he knows a lot more than I do.”

The linebacker said that they don’t talk much about football.

“[It’s] just, ‘Hey bro, how do you handle this?’ or ‘How do you look at this?’ Stuff like that.”

Gay did not know whether (or how much) he will be playing in Thursday’s final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium — although he said he would be ready.

“I look forward to playing every night we can,” he said, “so when the games do come along, I’m ready. We’re getting prepared right now; I’m ready for it. [I’ll play] however long Coach [Andy] Reid wants us to.”

At this point, however, Gay recognizes that it is time for the regulars to shift their focus to the games that matter.

“I tell myself mentally, ‘Okay, you’re preparing for the season’ — even though it’s preseason still,” he said. “Eventually you’re going to get into Week 1 of the regular season — and everything you did from the first week of training camp on, it adds something every week. I try to add something every week to my game that will help me get ready for Week 1 — whether it’s playing in a preseason game or practice — and I just build off of that.”

Gay said that the 17-day gap between the Packers matchup and the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on September 11 won’t change his perspective.

“We still have practice, so mentally you tell yourself, ‘I’m getting ready for Arizona.’ Because that’s Week 1 — it’s the first problem we have to get through. Whether it’s a walk-through practice or just an off day — even if you’re watching film — just prepare your mind as [if] ‘I’m getting ready for Arizona.’ Every day.”

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