It wasn’t that long ago that the Kansas City Chiefs were struggling to find answers at the second level of their defense. But going into 2023, it’s arguably the defense’s strongest, deepest unit.
Consider the case of the team’s recently acquired linebacker Drue Tranquill. Last season — in the final year of his rookie deal with the Los Angeles Chargers — he started 16 games, collecting 146 tackles (95 solo, 10 for loss), five sacks, eight quarterback hits, four passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble. Every one of those numbers represented a career-high.
And yet, the Chargers decided to let him move on — in this case, to a division rival.
“I poured my heart out there for four years in Los Angeles,” Tranquill admitted on NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access” on Thursday. “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out. But I was really honored by the way the Chiefs pursued me — all the way from the front office down to the coaching staff. Andy Reid literally texted me the morning [when] I was going to make my decision. He was like, ‘Think red. Think red. Think Super Bowls.’
“I just felt really valued [by the Chiefs]. I felt like they really had a role for me and really wanted me over there. So I’m excited to join up with those guys. I’m going to miss a lot of my teammates and coaches over there in Los Angeles, but excited for this next step.”
And even though Tranquill is now the linebacker room’s most experienced NFL player, he considers himself to be a guy who is still on a learning curve. Part of that is because he began his football career as a safety, so he’s continuing to learn the “ins-and-outs” of the position.
“It’s not something I’ve done since I was a kid,” he explained. “And so I’m learning from even those guys in the room — but I obviously bring some experience to the room, having the most years under my belt.
“But those guys have won world championships — and that’s what I’m after. So I’m excited to learn from those guys. We’ve got a lot of great guys in that room, obviously — starting with Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr., the draft pick last year, Leo Chenal, [plus] Jack Cochran and Cole Christensen. I mean, the room is just deep; there’s a lot of players.”
Tranquill praised Steve Spagnuolo, saying — like so many other Chiefs — that the fifth-year defensive coordinator puts his charges in positions to be successful. And the linebacker likes what he brings to Spagnuolo’s table.
“I think one of my key traits is my versatility: my ability to defend the run, to play [against] the pass, to play man-to-man [or] zone coverage [and] make plays on the ball down the field,” said Tranquill. “Then I think one of the things that kind of sets me apart as a linebacker is my ability to rush the passer. Spags obviously does a lot of different things with blitzes, so I’m excited to see what we’re able to put together.”
Tranquill will join the rest of the veterans who will report to Kansas City’s training camp at Missouri Western State Univerity in St. Joseph on Friday, July 21. That Sunday, practices will get underway — and we’ll begin to see exactly how he will fit in.
Please note: an earlier version of this article stated that Chiefs’ veterans would report on Saturday, July 22. That information was obtained from the NFL on June 28. Since then, the team has informed us that veterans will report on Friday, June 21.