When members of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense step up to a microphone, they come across as nice, easy-going individuals. Defensive tackle Chris Jones is goofy, safety Justin Reid is diplomatic, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is quiet.
That changes when the unit takes the field to face an opponent. The Chiefs’ defense has been as physical and aggressive as any unit in football, and that’s not by accident. It’s a mentality that goes with the confidence that comes from playing under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and it has helped the team get to Super Bowl LVIII.
Linebacker Drue Tranquill has embraced that in his first season with the Chiefs. He explained the defense’s thought process when speaking to reporters on Thursday.
“We just want to be a ton of dogs out there,” Tranquill acknowledged. “When it comes down to it, we just want to play ball, we want to get after it. We really believe in our leader Spags and the coaches he has in place.”
When players feel strongly and confident about the game plan that gets put in, it allows them to play so much faster and looser. That’s what has happened in Kansas City this year.
“There are sometimes in football, whether it’s high school, college, or professional, where you’re not sure about a game plan,” Tranquill explained. “That has not happened this year one time. When we go into a game, we know it’s going to work, we just have to execute.”
To execute to the extent his defense has, it takes more than just fully understanding the strategy. The mentality this defense adopts when it takes the field makes the offense feel the presence of the unit on any given play.
Chiefs’ players can almost look like entirely different people out there.
“We talk about an alter ego, and I feel like you have to have that a little bit,” Tranquill admitted. “I’m a family man first... there’s a little bit more of a gentle spirit that you have to take on when you’re in the house. That spirit doesn’t work when you’re in between the white lines.”
“We say, ‘I’m Clark Kent, but I have to play like Superman,’” Tranquill continued. “When it’s between the white lines... you’re kind of in that head space looking to dominate the guy across from you.”
The ‘guy across from you’ could even be a Buffalo Bills fan, throwing a snowball at Tranquill as he and the rest of the team celebrated. The linebacker caught it, and looked ready to fire it back in the crowd before it fell apart in his hand.
That fiery attitude only comes out of Tranquill on the gridiron. To those close to him, it can look uncharacteristic for the father of three children.
“I’ll get in the family group chat after the game, and they’ll say, ‘What were you saying to that guy?’” Tranquill revealed. “‘You really trash talk?’ I don’t know how good I am at it.”
The intensity the Chiefs’ defense plays with is a huge reason the group is considered one of the best in the NFL. It’s something that cannot be faked and cannot be manufactured within the season.
Linebacker Nick Bolton was confident this group would be at the top of the league. On Thursday, he reminded reporters of his stance back in August, after a training camp practice in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“In training camp, I mentioned that we had the opportunity to be a top 10 defense, that’s our floor,” Bolton recalled. “I meant that, I could tell by the way the guys were able to recall from last year, how fast the new guys were able to pick up stuff.”
He shouted out Tranquill and rookie safety Chamarri Conner for coming in and picking things up fast, but they were luxury additions to an already-ascending unit.
“I think the experience, building off of what we had last year, everyone’s a year older, that kind of helped us to where we are now,” Bolton asserted.
Last year, the defense showed flashes of this brilliance, but it all came together in the 2023 season. That’s because the Chiefs’ defense is made up of intelligent players — like Bolton or Tranquill — but those same individuals can also be hard-nosed tone-setters.