Kansas City Chiefs rookie pass rusher George Karlaftis sacked quarterback Russell Wilson for a three-yard loss in Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos. After a slow start to his rookie campaign that netted only half a sack through his first 11 games, Karlaftis has now dropped opposing quarterbacks five times in the last six contests.
Following Sunday’s game, the former Purdue Boilermaker discussed his recent dominance — crediting Chiefs defensive line coaches Joe Cullen and Terry Bradden for helping to improve his finishing and second effort.
“I feel like I was good from an individual perspective,” Karlaftis said of the season’s early chapters. “[I] felt like I was getting there [but] just missing my layups a lot. So in practice — with Coach Cullen and Coach Bradden — [we’re] just working on finishing a lot.”
The extra work has also involved continuing the play even when unsuccessful against first blocks, which has benefitted the rookie when opposing quarterbacks have held on to the ball too long.
“A lot of sacks that come for guys around the league are on a second effort, on a counter,” he observed. “So we’ve been working that nonstop [and] watching extra film.”
On Wednesday, Chiefs safety Justin Reid said that, after 15 weeks, first-year players had seen enough work to no longer be called rookies. Veteran defensive linemen Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Carlos Dunlap appear in agreement.
“My veterans — Chris, Frank, and Carlos — said the same thing to me,” he confirmed. “No more of those rookie mistakes. ‘You’ve played enough games — you’ve played basically a whole season now.’ We’re getting ready for the playoffs now — so that’s what it’s all about. They’ve got to trust me — just like I trust them every play.”
Following the Chiefs’ Week 16 24-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Clark praised his teammate for never being satisfied. Karlaftis described on Sunday how the veteran has helped him in his initial season.
“Frank took me aside this offseason,” he recalled. “Going back to camp, [he] talked to me about, ‘Hey, you’re going to mess up at some point. It’s going to be things you’ve never seen before.’ But at the end of the day, you get better from those kinds of things. You capitalize — you watch film off of that — and that’s how you improve. That’s what it’s been about.”
Working with Clark has also helped Karlaftis become a better finisher over the season’s second half.
“Frank and I were going this week just about finishing plays,” he noted. “Every single time in practice, [we worked on] finishing exactly how you would in a game. It’s all about consistency at this level — and being at your best every single play.”
The 29th overall selection from April’s draft knows one thing that has helped him be at his best: a Defensive Player of the Year-worthy campaign from Jones.
“I play with Chris a lot on the same side,” he explained. “When you play with nine-five, you know they’re going to double him — so that benefits me a lot to. It’s just a testament to the coaches and everyone around me.”
Karlaftis has no doubts about the elite player he finds himself next to.
“He’s insane,” he declared of Jones. “He’s the best interior lineman in the NFL — [and] I don’t think it’s close. He’s a beast, man. He’s awesome to play next to — great teammate. To see a guy of his caliber, he’s very unselfish. A team player, a great guy to be around, great energy — he’s the heart and soul of our defense.”
The heart and soul of the defense has noticed the Greek-born rookie’s recent play but hopes to see even better things when the games that matter start.
“My dog — he works on it a lot,” Jones said after the game of Karlaftis’ improvement. “He works with me after practice. We emphasize getting to the quarterback with our front four — with our front eight. He’s been taking it serious. Throughout the year, he’s gotten better. We’ve got to continue to push him to get better throughout the year.”
The Chiefs’ pair of first round selections — Karlaftis and cornerback Trent McDuffie — combined on Sunday for one of the season’s defensive highlights. Late in the second quarter, McDuffie got to Wilson on a blitz, and Karlaftis fell on the resulting fumble. The pass rusher explained that he was focused on giving the ball back to the offense — rather than heroics.
“I was trying to be conservative,” Karlaftis admitted. “To speak to that, I think [if] you give our offense ten or 15 seconds, you know they can do a lot with that. First and foremost was to recover the ball. If I had a chance to go scoop-and-score, I would have done that.”