It was a hot day in St. Joseph on Sunday morning. By the time the Kansas City Chiefs stepped onto their practice field at Missouri Western State University, temperatures were already in the low to mid-80s — and by the time practice was over, it was nearly 90 degrees.
“It’s a dog day,” said Kansas City MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton of Sunday’s weather.
But he went on to say that it’s in these kinds of tough moments that you bond with your teammates the most.
“That’s when we really come together as a team — and as a unit,” Bolton told reporters. “I’m proud of where we’re at. It was a good day today — but we’re still not where we want to be, so we’re working every single day to try and get better.”
One thing that sets Chiefs training camp apart from those of some other NFL teams is that head coach Andy Reid uses long-drive scenarios to practice situations where the defense will be on the field for an extended period of time. Although it’s challenging, Bolton enjoys it — because it simulates an end-of-game scenario where you have to find a way to get off the field.
“We got to dig down deep and find a way to get stops,” he noted. “So I think it’s beneficial for us.”
Sunday’s long-drive scenario lasted for 16 plays — and Bolton doesn’t expect his head coach to shorten them.
“They keep getting longer,” he said, “But it’s one of the things that I like about this camp.”
Beyond building physical and mental endurance, one of the often-overlooked benefits of training camp is that it gives an opportunity to work on run defense; when teams aren’t running full scrimmages (like in OTAs and minicamps) Bolton said that it’s hard to work on stopping the run.
“We’re not really going up against runs until we get here,” he observed. “So the guys are coming in and we’re trying to learn as much as we can.”
Part of that is getting back in sync with the defensive line, making it possible for linebackers to shoot their assigned gaps.
“We’re trying to stop the ball at the line of scrimmage,” said Bolton matter-of-factly. “The d-line is doing a hell of a job up front, keeping us clean. Linebackers are third-level players, and so as long as they can keep us clean, we can get downhill and make some plays.”
To get to where they want to be, Bolton revealed that the Kansas City defense has adopted a simple goal: to get 1% better each day. He pointed out that this has become easier for him because he is processing the game faster than he did during his rookie season.
“I’m kind of settled in on the scheme part,” he said. “I’m trying to get myself better at football — and just make sure I’m better at my steps, my eyes, my vision and stuff like that— the little intangibles.”
This season, Bolton said that he wants the Chiefs defense to be known for its attitude — and that in order to do that, he’ll have the responsibility to put his teammates in a position to succeed.
“So long as I’m doing that,” he said, “I’m kind of good with where I’m at.”