Going into last season, the Kansas City Chiefs were readying a defensive backfield that looked very little like the group that had last taken the field. The fresh-faced group included four rookies and one veteran: former Houston Texans safety Justin Reid, who was himself new to Kansas City.
Each of them faced a learning curve in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, but their performance improved throughout the year. While this is normal for any player with a new team, Reid says last year’s group had a tougher challenge than most.
“There is definitely a little bit of a steeper learning curve here than maybe some other football programs,” the veteran safety admitted to reporters after Thursday’s OTA practice session. “just because of the depth of the playbook. Once guys get it, it’s really exciting and electric, because the pressures hit home. Coach Spags and the defensive staff do a phenomenal job [of] game planning. They challenge us with the load of it — but in the end, it makes us a better team.”
While it’s not shocking to hear that a rookie might need most of the season to get comfortable in a new scheme, it might be surprising to hear that about a veteran with four years of experience; in Texas, Reid had played under three different defensive coordinators. But even going into Weeks 14 and 15 of the season, Reid was still putting it all together.
“[That’s when] I really started to get it down,” he admitted, “because we do a lot of stuff. Plus, we had a lot of new faces. It [was] kind of hard because there wasn’t as much help; we [were] all trying to figure it out together.
“This year, guys are so much sharper just from having the experience with the team. Their comfort level is so much better — and their confidence is higher.”
The goal is for every member of the unit to be on the same page. That starts with each individual understanding their own assignments. That’s a taller task for Reid, who must play all over the defense — and also be an on-field leader.
“I see myself as a play-caller on defense,” Reid said of his role. “I enjoy the X’s and O’s, the checks, getting everybody situated. Then playing the different roles — from strong safety to free safety to dime linebacker... [I need to have] confidence in those roles [so I don’t] have to be out there and think; [I can] just be able to play as offenses make shifts... At that point, you really start to take the game to a new level.”
“In the second half of the year, you started seeing that. I’m planning to continue that progression this year.”
To carry on the momentum with which he finished last season, Reid knows that every player needs to be on the same trajectory — just as Spagnuolo said last week during his own press appearance.
“Where we are right now on the communication — and really, knowing the defense — we’re light-years ahead of where we were last year,” boasted the safety. “It’s really exciting. You can feel it in the communication and the energy out there; guys know the program now, we’re bought into the system. Now, it’s about bringing the new guys along. I think it’ll be easier to do than last year because there were so many new faces.”
It’s clear that Reid takes pride in being a leader. But because of his own learning curve last year, that aspect of his game may not have been all he would have liked it to be.
But now — especially after the departure of safety Juan Thornhill — he can truly feel confident in that role. That will boost his own play. But with a self-assured leader patrolling the back end, it will also help boost the play of the entire unit.