One of the early concerns from the Kansas City Chiefs training camp from Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph had been the lack of quality practice reps for defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah — drafted with the final first-round selection of this year’s NFL Draft.
The rookie appeared to turn a corner on Sunday, working heavily on the second-team defense.
Got a much better look at Felix Anudike-Uzomah today, running with the 2nd team exclusively— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 30, 2023
One of his best reps was an outside rush, push&pull against LT Wanya Morris that may have drew a holding flag and still got into the back of the pocket
Speaking after Monday’s practice, Anudike-Uzomah explained why he may not have seen as much early action as fans would prefer.
“It’s a day-to-day process,” he explained. “At the same time, I’m learning every day [and] trying to get better every day as I go. At the end of the day, it’s a big process. I’m just learning the playbook and technique-wise.”
Adjusting to one’s first NFL training camp is difficult enough, but Anudike-Uzomah has a more difficult acclimation than most first-year players. The former Kansas State Wildcat was limited for most of the offseason program and organized team activities (OTAs) while recovering from thumb surgery.
“It affected me quite a bit,” Anudike-Uzomah confirmed of the injury. “I’m not going to lie. A lot of the rookies obviously had [an opportunity] to learn technique and going to play full speed. And I had to jump back because of my injury. Now I’m in here — now I’m in training camp. Training camp’s a great time to get your footwork down — get everything down — to be ready for the preseason and season.”
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo also spoke on Monday. He stated that he and defensive line coach Joe Cullen are happy with what they see from the young pass rusher — now that he’s actually on the field.
“I think Felix is climbing,” Spagnuolo observed. “We all know he didn’t do anything in the offseason here — and that set him back. I thought he was a little rusty and struggled early. But Joe and I both [think] — if you watch one-on-ones or if you watch the team periods — he’s flashing now, which is a good thing.
“There’s still the learning curve, but I think he’s doing pretty good right now.”
Anudike-Uzomah was humble in reacting to Spagnuolo’s remarks.
“I agree that I’m learning every day,” he stated. “I’m learning exactly what the coaches have in store just to learn technique-wise. I thank him for saying that. At the end of the day, I’m still learning. For me, I’m still not there yet — and I’ve got some learning to do.”
Every first-round draft selection feels pressure. Few would blame the Kansas City-raised Anudike-Uzomah for feeling even more than usual as he suits up for his hometown team. He is content to simply take the best approach for himself.
“I’m just blocking that out,” Anudike-Uzomah said of rookie expectations. “At the end of the day, I’m just drafted here to play. I’m drafted here to learn, play, and learn the defense.”
Learning involves both the physical and mental adjustments to the league.
“It’s a bit of both,” he noted. “Obviously, coming from college, you’re not met with the same competition as people in the NFL because they are the people that’s the best of the best. Mental-wise, there’s a lot more things to learn jumping from Kansas State to here technique-wise.
“Plus, I was in a 3-4 [formation] — and now we’re in a four-down [linemen] defense. And I’m dropping back too. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to learn.”
The selection of Anudike-Uzomah marked consecutive years the Chiefs used first-round selections on pass rushers. While his new teammate George Karlaftis had a successful rookie year with most standards, teammates jokingly panned him for his unimpressive sack celebrations.
This year’s rookie defensive end appears set on avoiding such mockery — though his celebratory plans remain shrouded in mystery.
“I will,” Anudike-Uzomah responded when asked if he intended to have a sack dance.