After a slow start in his rookie campaign, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis finished fast, collecting 5.5 sacks over the final seven games. Then he helped clinch a Super Bowl appearance with a sack of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow during the team’s AFC Championship victory.
The Greek pass rusher is unable to explain what changed.
“I couldn’t pin down one specific spot,” Karlaftis said to reporters following Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “I started feeling good towards the end of the year [and] going into the playoffs. I’m hoping to carry that over.”
He does know, however, that part of the process is moving past early struggles.
“You just kind of start to figure it out eventually,” he noted. “It starts to click. You have conversations. It happens at a different time for everyone. At times it got frustrating, but you just keep going forward. Put your best foot forward.”
As a rookie, Karlaftis was often candid about the importance of learning from the team’s defensive line veterans. That continued on Tuesday, as he continued to give credit to defensive tackle Chris Jones and pass rushers Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap for their mentorship.
“Playing 20 games,” Karlaftis explained, “having that experience and being around guys like Chris, Frank, and Carlos — and all the other guys in the room — that helps you out. I learned a lot this past season. I’m ready to take that with me going forward.”
“I love Frank,” he declared. “He meant the world to me. Everybody on this team was a part of him. [He’s a] great person. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. That’s just his business, but I love him. He taught me so much that I’ll not only take with me forward as a professional football player — but also in life, too.”
Meanwhile, Karlaftis is hoping to build on last season’s finish.
“[I’m] really trying to focus on the little things — the mental aspect, the mental side of the game,” he said. “You can never get too good at that — the details [and] fundamentals — and really getting bigger, faster [and] stronger. [I’m] trying to hit it from every angle.”
During the offseason, a workout video on social media revealed that Karlaftis found yet another mentor — one who last played while the second-year pro was still in high school.
“During the offseason,” he recalled of working with former Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali, “you have some time off — and you kind of get to thinking about different stuff and how you can improve going into your second year... I knew there were some Chiefs players and some guys that have been part of the organization that live in town. I just reached out to him to get some knowledge — and it turned out to be a great relationship. He’s been a great mentor and a great person to me.”
Careers move fast in the NFL. After only one season of his own, Karlaftis may already have a chance to pass on some of what he has learned. Though this year’s first-round draft selection has been limited on the field, Karlaftis has been impressed with what he has seen from fellow defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
“He’s been great,” he said of his new teammate. “He’s been a little banged up — but he’s a student of the game. He hasn’t been on the field a whole lot just because of whatever, but he’s been able to soak everything up. Mentally, he’s pretty good — and I think he’s going to have a bright future here.”