The Kansas City Chiefs will be without starting MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton as they take on the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s Week 3 matchup on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Bolton missed the entire week of practice due to an ankle injury that he suffered in the Chiefs’ Week 2 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As all but confirmed by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on Thursday, first-year Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill will be taking over Bolton’s green-dot duties against Chicago.
“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.”
Speaking at his locker on Friday afternoon after practice, Tranquill expressed confidence — especially after he saw his defensive snap count increase from 13 snaps against the Detroit Lions to 28 against the Jaguars.
“I think [if] you look [from] Week 1 to Week 2, I got more reps,” said Tranquill. “Just going to continue building, I got a great coaching staff. We got a really good room. It really helped me come along in my understanding of the defense, so I feel really good.”
Tranquill has shown supreme range and athleticism in his outings, tallying six tackles (four solo) in the two games. He has also grown more and more comfortable with the playbook, affording him the opportunity to call the defense on Sunday.
“I think I have an incredible position coach in Brendan Daly and coach [Ken Flajole], Alex Whittingham,” said Tranquill. “I think it starts with them. Then we’ve got so much experience in our room. You look at Nick B, Willie [Gay] — who’s been in the system for a really long time — and Jack Cochrane, who knows it inside and out. And so I’ve just really leaned on those guys to learn the ins and outs. There is a lot of communication — a lot more than I’m used to — but it comes with a position and I’m excited.”
Communication was been particularly important for the Chiefs last week against the Jaguars, who entered the red zone three times but were not able to score a touchdown.
“The area constricts, right?” said Tranquill of the red-zone defense. “Things are going to happen a lot quicker — and maybe a split-second decision in the red zone could be the difference between them getting a pick, a rub between two DBs or getting a guy to the flat on a linebacker. And so there’s just a lot less space [and] the ball is coming out quicker — and so you got to be on top of it and in terms of your communication.”
Even with the Bears beginning their season 0-2, the linebacker stressed that the Chiefs wouldn’t underestimate them. Tranquill’s sentiments echoed those of his teammates throughout the week — including safety Justin Reid on Thursday.
“They’ve got explosive players all over the field,” explained Tranquill. “You look at their wide receiver corps, you look at their running backs — physical, downhill runners. They’ve got playmakers — that tight end — and obviously [Justin] Fields with his legs. He’s got an arm on him, too; he can sing it all over the field. So we’ll have to be on top of it, play assignment-sound football and get after these guys.
“We say [it] all the time, right? They get checks, too. They’re good players, and they’re competitors — and I think that means the most. They’re going to come out, they’re going to come out ready to play. We’re going to match the intensity early — and then continue that throughout the game [to] close out the ball game.”