Patrick Mahomes II may be the reigning MVP of the league, but rookie safety Juan Thornhill showed how ready Kansas City’s defense is with a diving interception during Wednesday’s practice at Missouri Western.
The Kansas City quarterback looked for speedy receiver Tyreek Hill deep down the field during an 11-on-11 scrimmage, but Thornhill stepped up and made another highlight reel play, something he’s had a knack of doing all summer long. With the defense and guys like Thornhill making such plays, Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo believes his squad should be in good shape for this Saturday’s preseason match against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“If (Thornhill) can do well against (Mahomes) out here, then we’ll be in good shape,” Spagnuolo said. “I just want him to go out and do his job and do it really well. That’s really the expectation from me.”
While Spagnuolo said it is difficult to single out a key defensive playmaker, Thornhill remains high on his radar. However, everyone on the defense will have to give it all they have if they want to impress Spagnuolo.
“It’s hard to pick any particular one out,” Spagnuolo said. “Certainly we want to see Juan Thornhill in there. I’d just like to see all of them give great effort and tackle.”
Spagnuolo is entering his first year as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator. His last tenure as a defensive coordinator ended in 2017 after a two-year span with the New York Giants, when he was also an interim head coach, and it was the second time Spagnuolo had coached for the NFC East team. In 2007, Spagnuolo helped lead the Giants to a 17-14 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Now, Spagnuolo is looking pull a defense together after the Chiefs finished 31st in the NFL in 2018.
“I’m really looking for how cohesive of a unit we can be,” Spagnuolo said. “To me, communication, working together as a unit and communicating the back end and front end, that’s as important as anything. If we don’t get that squared away in the first game, it’ll be a long season, so we don’t want that.”
As for the team’s identity, Spagnuolo wants his players to pursue excellence by any means necessary.
“We’re gonna chase perfection and rely on relentlessness,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s been a motto and a theme for us. I’m hoping we’re adopting that as players, but we’ll see. The game is the real telltale.”
With many new defensive players such as safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark, the Chiefs still have another relatively fresh face who is looking to develop in cornerback Charvarius Ward. In his first season a Chief, Ward tallied 30 tackles, with a majority of his playing time coming in the final two games of the regular season and the playoffs.
For Ward, covering wide receivers like Hill and Sammy Watkins in training camp has helped him grow as a player and also helped build his anticipation to play against actual competition.
“I’m ready to get out there and play against somebody else, hit somebody,” Ward said. “We got some of the best receivers in the league, the fastest receivers in the league. I gotta always play fast. I can’t be lollygagging around and getting tired. I gotta stay up to par with those guys.”
Working with veteran players like Mathieu is nothing new to Ward, as he played with former Chiefs safety Eric Berry last season, someone who spent eight years in Kansas City. Ward says playing with Mathieu is similar to playing with Berry due to the leadership qualities both his new teammate and Berry possess.
“Both of them are the big dogs,” Ward said. “They’re as good as advertised. You just gotta raise your game to their level. You can’t let those guys down.”
Mathieu brings six years worth of experience and 13 career interceptions to the Chiefs’ revamped defense. Clark brings over 13 sacks from the 2018 season and has a career total of 35 in just four seasons. Clark did not practice on Wednesday due to a sore wrist and left Monday’s practice early due to the injury.
The Chiefs take on the Bengals at 7 p.m. Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.