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Nick Bolton says the Chiefs’ defense can reach the top 10 this season

Kansas City’s MIKE linebacker says that even in the championship season, the defense wasn’t good enough.

NFL: NOV 13 Jaguars at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you were to ask MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton how the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense performed last season, he would tell you that coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit was good enough — but not actually good.

“I had a conversation with Coach Spags,” revealed Bolton after Sunday morning’s first full practice of the team’s training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. “And we talked about defensive efficiency. I believe we were ranked 21st last year.”

In fact, Football Outsiders had the Chiefs ranked 17th in 2022, with a total defensive DVOA of just 1.4%. When zero represents average — and scores range from -14.1% for the top defense to 17.9% for the bottom one — that’s about as middle of the road as you can get.

“We [were] able to win the Super Bowl,” said Bolton, “but the defense wasn’t good enough.”

So Bolton and his defensive teammates have a goal in mind for this season.

“I think the most motivation [we have] is [we’re] trying to get our defense into the top 10,” he explained.

In Bolton’s mind, it’s a goal that should be well within reach.

“With the guys we got, the people we have and guys kind of growing up and coming into their roles? There’s no reason we can’t do that.”

The linebacker believes that the Kansas City defense will be strong at all three levels.

“I think it kind of starts up front,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys up front who can play. Charles [Omenihu] coming in and then Felix [Anudike-Uzomah] coming in, George [Karlaftis] coming into his second year — and obviously Chris [Jones].

“[The] secondary is older. Willie [Gay Jr.] is playing very well, Drue [Tranquill] is another vet guy. Leo [Chenal] is coming back for another year. So a lot of guys [have] a lot of plays in this system — a lot of comfortability along our defense. That’s what it takes for us to be a lot better than we were last year.”

Bolton believes that it’s simple: every player needs to put their best foot forward every day.

“Game-changing plays are the product of doing your job consistently,” he noted. “I think that’s kind of the mindset of our defense: do your job to the best of your abilities every play.”

As the defense’s leader, Bolton knows that this expectation starts with him — not only as a player on the field but as a mentor off of it.

“I want to be the best person I can be to help our team win,” he said. “Again, leadership role — whatever the guys need me to do — that’s what I’m here for.”

Starting safety Justin Reid echoed Bolton’s confidence.

“This [is] the prime for the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kingdom, with the talent that we have offensively and defensively,” he declared to the press on Sunday. “We are better in leadership, along with the young guys coming in and playing really well — especially when we need them to.”

Reid considers Bolton to be at the center of it all.

“Nick is the leader of the defense,” he said. “[He does] the play-calling, making checks and making calls — and everyone on the field has the utmost confidence [in] that whatever Nick says, that’s what we’re going to do.”

While Bolton very likely appreciates his teammates' confidence in him, he says he’s not a guy who is focused on the accolades.

“At the end of the year,” he said, “I’m hoping to be holding the Lombardi Trophy. I think that’s the most recognition you can get.”

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