The future at linebacker is bright in Kansas City

The Chiefs have invested in the defense and the offensive line this offseason, and it is paying off so far. The offensive line is completely revamped and the young linebacker corps is showing good results in training camp. All eyes are on them during this critical time. Many young talents have shown their skills and could create a big surprise for the beginning of the season, especially Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr.

“I know their names come up a lot because they’re both young,” Spagnuolo said. ”Nick (Bolton) we just got this year, but I will say this, those guys work as hard as anybody else on the defense.”

2020 2nd round pick Willie Gay Jr. spent most of last season as a backup, playing in only about 25-percent of the team’s defensive snaps, but impressed anyway across the league. He made most of his contributions on special teams but recorded a sack and a forced fumble in his limited role behind Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann.

Spagnuolo has always shied away from using rookies in his system, but Gay Jr even earned a hashtag on Twitter last year, #freewillie, with the support of fans wanting him alongside Hitchens in the first team. With an obvious change in the future for the middle of the Chiefs’ defense, Gay Jr. has shown enough to take a big step forward this season.

He’s been one of the most improved players at Chiefs training camp, and his teammate Mathieu noticed him twetting: “Willie Gay. That’s the tweet,” the Honey Badger wrote.

During his time at Mississippi State, Gay’s speed and athleticism stood out and got him drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

“The OTA’s in the offseason for Willie were huge. I’m hoping going through this whole process we can get back to normal football and normal offseason and he can even grow better,” Spagnuolo said. “I love his energy. You guys see him and talk to him. He loves ball. That’s a good thing. Good place to start.”

Rookie linebacker Nick Bolton, a former student from Mizzou, is a fan favorite and has been the topic of lots of discussions during training camp. With interceptions in back-to-back practices, many observers think he could be high in the defensive roster already at the beginning of the season. Given the team’s need for a playmaking presence at linebacker, he could be an asset the Chiefs will use pretty often alongside the veteran players.

“I learned the playbook, communication, the intangible things that you don’t get by just reading the playbook. It’s about being out there with the guys.” Said Bolton,  “So I’m trying to go ahead and improve on that during training camp … I just know the expectation is for me to build trust — and that comes with repetition and doing things correctly all the time. So that’s the kind of expectation I have for myself: just have to go out there and execute every single day, and just give [Spagnuolo] confidence.”

To earn the trust of his coach, he has a big road to go, learning all the shades and nuances of the defense, and Hitchens is the kind of player that will support and help any rookie when he sees the potential.

“Anthony Hitchens is one of the smartest football players that I know,” Bolton said. “That guy is very seasoned … he knows what he is doing. I talk to him every day … about what to bring up here for training camp, or developing and how to learn the playbook … He’s been a big help.”

Talking about Willie Gay Jr and Nick Bolton, the head coach Andy Reid said: “I like both of them. They’re making plays. I was curious to see how they would do with the pads on with the run game coming at them and I thought they did a nice job with that. Good instincts, I like what I’ve seen.”

The linebacker room is renewed and young, which is exciting for the future of the Kansas City Chiefs. Surely the loss in the Super bowl showed their general manager they needed reinforcement in some areas of the game, and that’s what they have been working on this offseason.

For the last few years, the linebacker position has had several veterans come through and lead the way. The growth of Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr will be very important to build a strong core in the defense for the years to come. And it looks good so far!