Ahead of their Week 3 matchup with the Chicago Bears, the Kansas City Chiefs may be without starting middle linebacker Nick Bolton. The third-year pro — and Kansas City’s on-field play-caller — has missed the first two practices to start the week due to an ankle injury.
Bolton briefly left the Chiefs’ Week 2 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars after suffering the injury.
Speaking before Thursday’s practice, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo confirmed that Drue Tranquill — who signed with Kansas City in free agency this offseason after starting 16 games for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2022 — would be in line to take Bolton’s role if he is unable to dress on Sunday.
Tranquill’s usage through two games has been intentional in getting him ready for such a situation.
“We’re very fortunate we’ve got Drue,” Spagnuolo declared. “He’s played linebacker before; he’s been in the system now a little bit. He’s got a couple of games under his belt. You guys would have noticed in both games that we played, Drue, there were certain series in the first half for Drue to go out and be the MIKE, and [we] gave Nick some reps off.
“We wanted to do that early because it was early in the season, number one, and the second game, it was because we were in Florida, and we knew that it could get long, and we all wanted to be fresh at the end of the game. I think that will help Drue if he has to step in there and take over for Nick in this one.”
Bolton has been such an integral part of the defense that he cannot be totally replaced. Linebacker is a position, however, where the Chiefs have a plethora of options.
The team used Day 2 selections on Bolton, Willie Gay Jr. and Leo Chenal in recent drafts. In addition to bringing Tranquill, Jack Cochrane and Cam Jones have managed to stick with the Chiefs despite joining the team as undrafted free agents.
Spagnuolo and linebackers coach Brendan Daly are enjoying the different combinations the diverse room allows.
“Brendan, myself, and all the coaches,” Spagnuolo recalled, “felt like we acquired some players there at linebacker — Drue in particular, and Jack’s been here, and young Cam Jones is doing really well on special teams, plus Willie and we knew what we had in Leo. So you looked at that room and said, ‘There’s some guys there that can make plays and help us, so let’s find ways to get them on the field.’
“You guys have seen Leo out there with Drue and Nick, so there’s three linebackers there. Then it’s been Willie and Leo and Nick. So, we’re kind of mixing and matching, and we’ll do it as we go through the season and find spots that we can use those guys that will help us effectively.”
Arguably, no player has benefited from creativity in the linebacker room as much as Chenal. He has been a ferocious playmaker on the field, and he is starting to contribute as a pass rusher.
Spagnuolo is not surprised by the second-year player’s early success — and hopes there is much more to come.
“Every guy on the team,” the coach stated, “probably will tell you that Leo might be the strongest pound-for-pound guy we’ve got on the team. He’s strong — real strong. You see what he does to tight ends, and now he’s even brought that to tackles. He’s always had a little bit of a pass rush instinct. He did a little bit of it at Wisconsin — kind of from off the ball, not on the ball.
“There’s a lot of places that we feel like we can use Leo — and we want to try to do that as much as we can. A little of it is dictated by what the offense is putting out there, but I’m real happy with what Leo has done. We’re going to keep trying to use him as much as we can, and all those linebackers have done a nice job.”