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In Year 2, linebacker Leo Chenal’s confidence is showing

The Kansas City linebacker credits his familiarity with the defensive scheme for his second-year improvement.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Kansas City Chiefs’ 2022 draft class might go down as one of the best in franchise history.

That started to become apparent last season, as several members of the class contributed to the team’s championship run. But the progress we have seen from Year 2 players during the first two games of the 2023 season provides even more evidence of how transformative last season’s rookies have been

One of the standouts of Sunday’s 17-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars was linebacker Leo Chenal. Even though he’s part of a very deep linebacking corps, the former third-rounder’s usage has increased this season. Chenal has played 38% of the team’s defensive snaps — and has made the most of them. While he’s always been a strong run defender, his growth in pass coverage (and play recognition) has helped him shine. He’s been useful in multiple defensive roles — including being a pass rusher, an area in which he excelled while playing at Wisconsin.

On Wednesday, Arrowhead Pride’s Aaron Ladd spoke with Chenal in the locker room.

“We’ve just gotta keep stacking,” he declared. “We’re not sitting here, patting ourselves on the back. We always have something to work on; [we’re] looking at it.

“But I do think we feel confident. It’s [the] second, third [or] fourth year [in] this defense with a lot of the guys. I think having all that experience under our belt — playing that much faster with the confidence we have, with the guys we have being able to trust each other with everything we do? That’s huge for confidence.”

In the first two games, that confidence (and trust) has been easy to see. Kansas City’s defense has given up only 23 points to opposing offenses. Part of that success has come from the team leveraging its linebackers by playing more 3-3-5 fronts. This allows the second-level players to either rush the passer or simulate pressure before fading into coverage.

Chenal believes that in his second year, the game has slowed down for him.

“Even going into the offseason — showing up for OTAs — you feel the difference.” he observed. “You feel like you can take a breath and say: ‘OK, I just did that.’ Nothing’s unfamiliar, so [you can] just go out there and play loose.

“I’m able to slow it down and look at a receiver split while I’m sitting on the edge — or [other] little things that I wouldn’t notice before. My mind is operating more calmly than before — and it’s making me that much better.”

So far, Pro Football Focus rates Chenal as Kansas City’s highest-graded linebacker, ranking him 22nd out of 81 qualifying linebackers across the league. He’s likely to continue to play a significant role in the team’s defensive success as it prepares to face the Chicago Bears’ run-oriented offense this Sunday.

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