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Training camp notebook: Steve Spagnuolo sheds light on standout backups as camp rolls on

Kansas City lost Nazeeh Johnson and has been without both Chris Jones and Mike Danna.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As thrilling as the beginning of the NFL year can be with training camp, we must also deal with the harsh reality of injuries. The Kansas City Chiefs — just like any other team around the league — have a roster full of world-class athletes, but in the standard preparation for the season, injuries happen.

On Saturday, Chiefs second-year cornerback Nazeeh Johnson tore his ACL on the indoor turf at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, ending the season of a defender who appeared to be an early 2023 breakout candidate.

“I’m really sad to see that happen to NJ,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo at the podium on Monday. “He was really climbing. If you guys noticed, he was taking reps with the first group because he had earned it, and he’s got a really good corner skill set. He played safety in college. So hopefully, we’ll pray he gets healthy real quick and gets back.”

In the two days to follow, Johnson’s fellow second-year defensive back, Joshua Williams, has taken the snaps at boundary cornerback in the nickel, with most looks seeing Trent McDuffie outside and L’Jarius Sneed opposite Williams outside. Jaylen Watson, who finished 2022 third among cornerbacks snaps, has been in most of the looks with McDuffie and Sneed since camp began.

With cornerback Nic Jones added to the room in the seventh round of the NFL Draft this year, the group appeared to be set — but now, opportunity has knocked for the Chiefs’ deeper candidates.

“All those guys are playing [well],” added Spagnuolo. “Nic’s one you brought up. Ekow [Boye] Dowe, I thought, had a really good day the other day. And [Dicaprio] Bootle always gives us everything he’s got. Somebody’s going to have to surface. That’s for sure. We do have some guys with experience now. That would have been a little different a year ago, right? If you start having injuries, they were all young.”

And considering experience, Spagnuolo’s unit is currently missing the experience of a seven-year All-Pro: defensive tackle Chris Jones. He continues to hold out of camp as he seeks a new contract. With Jones absent, 2019 undrafted free agent Daniel Wise has taken most of the snaps inside next to Derrick Nnadi.

“[He has] quick inside movement, which has stuck out to (defensive line coach) Joe [Cullen] and I,” said Spagnuolo of Wise. “And we got a ways to go. There’s pretty good competition inside there with all those big guys. We’ll see how it all surfaces.”

Matt Dickerson — who has a history with the club — was added to the roster again in May. He’s rotated with Wise — and Spagnuolo said he expects that to continue.

With defensive end Mike Danna out due to a calf injury in recent days, Malik Herring has shined during one-on-ones and in team drills as he mans several different spots along the line. Herring has been with the Chiefs since catching on after the draft in 2023.

“Here’s a guy that’s been here for a number of years, so he’s heard it,” said Spagnuolo. “From the mental part, [Herring’s] much further ahead than some of the other guys.”

Kansas City did not hope to test its depth this early in camp — but now that it has, the looks Spagnuolo has been seeing with his reserve layers may prove invaluable when it comes time for those tough roster decisions.


You can find my complete observations from Monday’s practice here.

Press conferences

If you can’t see the above (Apple iTunes) embed, click here. The press conference is also available on Spotify.

Injury report

  • Did not practice (due to injury): DE Mike Danna (calf injured on 7/28), TE Jody Fortson (right shoulder injured on 7/28), WR Ty Scott, WR Kadarius Toney (knee injured on 7/23)
  • Limited: RB Isiah Pacheco (hand, labrum)
  • Returned to practice: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (illness)
  • Left practice early: P Tommy Townsend (right leg)
  • Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List: DT Tershawn Wharton (ACL)

Tweet of the day

Our John Dixon compiled all of Monday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:

Live, from St. Joe, it’s Monday morning!

Quote of the day

Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice on how he has adjusted to playing with quarterback Patrick Mahomes: “He’s gon’ bomb the ball, so don’t look back and run. Look up and run.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs will have their second day off of training camp on Tuesday — and the club will return to the field on Wednesday. That workout will begin at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. Head coach Andy Reid will address the media following the practice as the team’s linebackers sign autographs. Here’s the complete 2023 training camp schedule.

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