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Training camp notebook: Nick Bolton says poor preseason game ‘starts with me’

The linebacker added the Chiefs defense needed boosted energy and to be assignment sound.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no sugarcoating it: the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting defense began their 2023 campaign on a discouraging note.

While it’s just the preseason, there were very few positive takeaways from the 16 plays the first-team defense played against the New Orleans Saints during Sunday’s 26-24 loss.

Over two drives, two different quarterbacks led touchdown drives against the Chiefs, gaining eight yards per play.

Kansas City’s defensive play-caller had to answer for his unit’s debut after Tuesday’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

“The intensity [and] focus level has to be up through the roof,” MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton said of the defense’s performance. “Guys’ legs were a little bit tired from training camp — but none of that really matters. We had a chance to compete — [to] put good stuff on tape — and we didn’t do that.

“It starts with me. I didn’t play as well as I needed to play, I started the tempo of the game off bad — and from there, it was like we were a little scared.”

Bolton’s words back up what happened on the field. One 12-yard gash on the ground featured nearly every defender failing to get off a block. Another big gain occurred because a defender looked lackadaisical in man coverage.

According to Bolton, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wasn’t very happy with the team’s energy — or the execution of the defensive play-calls.

“We had a couple [of] bluffs there early,” revealed Bolton, “which led to some third downs being completed and drives continuing, gaining momentum... We just have to start from the beginning with more intensity [and] more focus — and we’ll see what happens.”

One bluff came on the opening touchdown. In a zone defense, the Kansas City back end had to pass a crossing pattern across the zones. By the time linebacker Willie Gay Jr. points it out to safety Justin Reid, it’s too late — because Reid has already crept too far upfield — abandoning his zone.

It might have helped to have the unit’s best player — defensive tackle Chris Jones — on the field.

“Chris is a special talent,” declared Bolton. “No question about it. We hope to get him back soon. We understand what he brings to the table. He makes our defense exponentially better.”

In Jones’ place, another big man tried to fill in. Just like he has done during training camp, defensive tackle Danny Shelton stood out in the game. He had two tackles and a sack, becoming the only defensive lineman to take down a quarterback on Sunday.

“[Danny] has played a lot of football,” Bolton noted. “[He’s] an older guy so he has seen a lot of different things — a lot of different schemes — and how stuff works. Bringing him in along the defensive line as another vet? It helps a lot. He’s a bigger guy, so you know he’s going to require double teams — which helps us linebackers as well.

“I liked the sack, with a little dance on the end. He had the sideline crunk on that one. We were excited about that.”

While linebacker Drue Tranquill and rookie safety Chamarri Conner each tallied a sack, it was Shelton’s that stood out as the defensive highlight of the day.

Still, the overall takeaway for the Chiefs’ defense wasn’t positive — and that’s not just about reactions from fans and observers. The unit’s leader also acknowledges it — and recognizes the details that need to be improved before they take the field again against the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday night.


Our Pete Sweeney was in attendance for practice, and you can read his observations here.

Post-practice chat and 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): S Mike Edwards (ankle injured on 8/13), CB Nic Jones (hand injured on 8/13), CB L’Jarius Sneed (knee swelling on 7/31), WR Kadarius Toney (knee injured on 7/23), DT Turk Wharton (knee flare-up 8/11)
  • Limited: RB Isiah Pacheco (hand, labrum)
  • Left early: WR Nikko Remigio (shoulder), Justyn Ross (knee/hamstring), WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (groin)
  • Placed on injured reserve: TE Jody Fortson (right shoulder injured on 7/28)
  • Waived/Injured: CB Anthony Witherstone (toe)

Tweet of the day

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

Quote of the day

Chiefs (and former SMU) wide receiver Rashee Rice, remembering his college football experience: “I didn’t huddle one time — unless it was victory.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs return to the field on Wednesday morning for their 18th full-team training camp practice. The workout begins at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time, and it leads into the final day of training camp on Thursday. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub and some of the team’s assistants will address the media following the practice as the offensive and defensive lines sign autographs. Here’s the complete 2023 training camp schedule.

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