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Steve Spagnuolo on the injured Charles Omenihu: ‘You don’t replace that’

The Chiefs’ defense is preparing for Super Bowl LVIII without one of its most impactful pass rushers.

AFC Championship - Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

Almost everything that came out of the AFC Championship was worthy of celebration for the Kansas City Chiefs. The team advanced to Super Bowl LVIII, securing the Lamar Hunt trophy for the fourth time in five seasons.

The only bad news didn’t reveal itself until the following day when it was reported that defensive end Charles Omenihu tore his ACL during the game. In the same contest where he had a crucial strip-sack, Omenihu’s season ended prematurely.

It’s terrible news for Omenihu. On Friday, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had a somber look when asked about replacing the pass rusher with eight sacks this season.

“You don’t replace that height and that length that he has,” Spagnuolo responded to reporters. “We’ll get guys to step in there. Felix [Anudike-Uzomah] will probably have to step in there. Everyone will have to up their game in the Super Bowl anyway.”

The Chiefs were strong at the top of the defensive end position with Omenihu: he joined defensive ends George Karlaftis and Mike Danna as capable starters. Now, with just two, the immediate depth has a spotlight on it.

“If the play count gets up, that’s where it gets tough for George or Mike being out there a lot,” Spags continued. “That’s when we’ll have to have guys step in.”

So far this postseason, defensive end Malik Herring has been that fourth edge defender. He will be joined by rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah now, who has taken a back seat for most of the season since Omenihu’s reinstatement from suspension in Week 7.

“We feel real confident with where Felix is,” Spags assured. “We’ve rotated linebackers, we’ve rotated defensive line... part of the reason we do it is to be ready later when guys have to step in. Felix is a pretty good example... it wasn’t a reflection of what Felix was or wasn’t doing.”

“Now, hopefully the fact that Felix has played some in games, he’ll be able to step in there and perform pretty well for us.”

Through the team’s first five games, Anudike-Uzomah accumulated half a sack, forced one fumble, and actually led the team in quarterback hits (four).

His pass-rush skills will be needed to get after San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Brock Purdy in the Super Bowl. Purdy was one of the least sacked full-time quarterbacks this season, taking advantage of playing in one of the most talented, well-schemed offenses in the NFL.

However, Spagnuolo doesn’t see Purdy as a product of the team around him. Instead, the Chiefs’ defensive play caller came away ‘thoroughly, thoroughly impressed’ with the second-year signal caller.

“When you dive into it, and you watch him, this is not a quarterback that is managing or all those tabs they put on him; he is for real,” Spagnuolo emphasized. “He makes all the throws, he’s really, really smart, and what I didn’t know: how athletic he is. This is another quarterback, when you cover everything back there, he finds a lane within the pass rush and can take off... that puts a lot of strain on us defensively.”

Purdy racked up 48 rushing yards in the NFC Championship, including a 21-yard scamper. That wasn’t even the highest rushing total he has had this season. That speaks to Spagnuolo’s point, but members of the defense have to acknowledge it, too.

Linebacker Nick Bolton sounds like someone who won’t be underestimating the 49ers’ young quarterback.

“Everybody can see where he’s drafted and call him a game manager, but he’s producing and finding ways to win,” Bolton pointed out. “In this league, you get judged by wins and losses, not by everything else. He has his team playing in the biggest game in the world, so we have to give him that respect, he has earned it.”

Purdy will be shielded from the Chiefs’ pass rush by great scheme and talent, but the 49ers can’t avoid third and long for the entire evening. That’s where Omenihu’s absence will be felt the most and where Anudike-Uzomah could be relied on the most in the biggest game of his rookie year.

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