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Chiefs’ Leo Chenal working to add pass rush and coverage to his skillset

Kansas City’s second year linebacker has been practicing some new roles at training camp.

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Leo Chenal, a year can make all of the difference. Speaking after Saturday’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, the second-year player left no doubt about it.

“It’s really night and day this year,” he declared. “Just having that whole offseason [and] even the longer season in the NFL. It’s like you start to feel those things that you would feel after a year in college — because it’s so much longer.

“Entering into this offseason, I’ve been more able to be like, ‘OK, I know what I’m doing — for the most part. Now, let’s work on the little things like technique.’

“Those [were] little things I wouldn’t be able to work on before. I now can — because I’m not stressing about [stuff] like, ‘Oh shoot — is that my job? Where’s my guy at?’ So it’s a lot better [having] tunnel vision on what I’m doing.”

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Chenal is among seven defensive players selected in the last year’s draft who played significant roles in Kansas City Super Bowl LVII victory. The Wisconsin product believes the rest of the 2022 class — who might one day be considered one of the team’s all-time best — are feeling like he does about 2023.

“You’ve got all these rookies — the rookies that we were last year — going into the season,” he observed. “How heavily we contributed last year... we’re that much better. I think we’re playing a lot faster. We’re communicating a lot better than we were before last year.”

After being drafted in last year’s third round, Chenal boasted that he wanted to be “one of the most violent guys on the field.” This season, he may get a larger chance to do that. During training camp practices, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has had Chenal (and fellow linebacker Willie Gay Jr.) lining up as edge rushers in certain formations.

“Coach Spags is having us try out different positions on the line [and] dropping from inside the line as that ‘Joker’ role,” Chenal revealed. “So we’re just trying to get better day-in, day-out with that. It’s an unfamiliar position to be in as an off-ball linebacker.”

So he and Gay have been reaching out to defensive end George Karlaftis for pointers.

“Willie and I have been kind of taking that role of getting on the line and rushing,” he continued. “A guy like him — he’s got a ton of speed. So [we’re] just learning from each other [and] learning from guys like George. That’s been really nice.”

But pass rushing is not the only skill Chenal is working to improve. One of the concerns for this transition from Wisconsin to the NFL was his lack of experience in coverage. Knowing it is one of the keys to becoming a more complete player, it has been a significant offseason focus for him.

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I look at myself,” Chenal noted, “just looking at practice [and] watching film of OTAs into training camp here — [and] I think I’m getting a lot better, actually, at looking and turning and seeing routes open up in my vision.

“Last year, I came from a defense [where] we were kind of locked in on the quarterback’s eyes. You check here and there, but now I’m on more of a pattern-match team — and I’m getting more comfortable in that scheme. So I’m able to see the patterns — and what the QB wants to go at — and the timing of routes a lot better.

“I emphasized a lot of foot mobility this offseason — and worked on stuff like that so I can get more fluid in coverage.”

On Saturday, veteran Kansas City safety Justin Reid revealed that he is impressed with what Chenal is bringing to his second camp.

“Leo is probably the most full linebacker I’ve ever met in my life,” joked Reid. “The guy looks like he eats bench plates for breakfast.

“He’s been developing well. He moves around in our playbook — he’s able to play all of the linebacker positions... He’s a developing player that’s playing really well right now.”

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Such improvement is being facilitated by Chiefs’ linebackers coach Brendan Daly, who now has five Super Bowl rings earned with Kansas City and the New England Patriots.

“He’s a great coach,” said Chenal of Daly. “He’s one of the best constructive criticism-type coaches I’ve ever been around. It makes the guys so much more confident in themselves and ready to go.

“[He’s] really great on the rookies. He spends so much [time on] detail. He really cares about us, but he’s pushing us every day. He’s not soft. He’s getting on us every day — really honing in our techniques and stuff like that.”

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