The Bridge

Posted Aug 25, 2010

Rookies Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis have relied on the experience of Jon McGraw in making their NFL transition

Chiefs safety Jon McGraw didn’t play a single snap against the Bucs last Saturday night, yet he was never far from the field.  Despite injury, McGraw still traveled with the team to Tampa, which is somewhat of a preseason rarity in itself. He watched the games from the sidelines without a uniform on.

Jon McGraw is the type of player who can help a team, even when he’s not on the field. That’s the reason that he was part of the Chiefs traveling party last weekend.

Without McGraw in the lineup, Kansas City started a pair of rookies at safety – Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis. Quarterbacking the secondary is a challenging task for anyone, much less two players with a combined total of zero games NFL experience. Berry and Lewis, however, managed to do it and still look comfortable in the process. Talent is partially responsible for helping them see the transition, and a little bit of naivety probably doesn’t hurt either. But McGraw is another factor that can’t be ignored.

“Me and Kendrick are comfortable back there with each other, but Jon helps us out a lot,” Berry acknowledged. “For us to have comfort on the field, it’s because he’s that extra set of eyes when we come to the sidelines and he has that experience that we lack. He always fills in and tells us little keys when we come off the field.”

McGraw has welcomed the two safeties with open arms since day one. The former K-State Wildcat is entering his ninth NFL season, which by far makes him the veteran presence in Kansas City’s young secondary. It’s a role that he’s embracing, and also one that Berry and Lewis are relying on.

“It’s been a gradual process where I’ve gotten to do that to a certain extent each year, and each year it gets a little bit more,” McGraw said of his mentorship role. “I’ve been able to play a lot of different positions from special teams, to nickel to both safeties; all of those kinds of things that have put me into a position to be of benefit to some of the younger guys.”

For that very reason, there weren’t any coincidences as to why McGraw made the trip to Tampa. He was placed on the sidelines because of his value to what looks to be the future of Kansas City’s safety position.

During the game, both Berry and Lewis would use McGraw as a sounding board as they made their way off the field following a defensive series. As they focused on doing their jobs, McGraw focused on how to help the pair do their jobs better.

“Off the field, we would come back and Jon would say if the quarterback was giving out any signals or if we were tipping our coverage,” Lewis said. “Jon would give us tips on when they were going to throw the high route, check out of a play or use slide protection. He was our eyes off the field.”

With 100 career games under his belt, McGraw has seen most everything that an offense can throw at a defense since entering the league as a second-round pick with the Jets in 2002. Passing along keys from those experiences is something that McGraw benefitted from as a young player himself. Now, he’s just paying it forward.

“There are a lot of things that, when you are on the field and in a play, that you can miss,” McGraw explained. “You get so focused on your job. Maybe it really doesn’t even affect you on that play. Maybe you did your job well, but there is something that you miss. Its great having someone on the sideline who can see a different picture that might say, ‘hey, they might be trying to set this up for later in the game or ‘watch out for this.’

“So that’s always a benefit having a guy like that,” McGraw continued. “I think that it is critical to have veteran guys that can help young guys develop a little quicker.”

Helping Berry and Lewis develop quicker and more efficiently could also correlate with McGraw seeing less defensive snaps. He also knows that it could go hand-in-hand with the Chiefs becoming a better football team.

The situation that McGraw currently finds himself in can be a difficult spot for almost any competitor. McGraw was once again running with the first-team when he returned to practice on Monday, and human nature doesn’t always encourage cooperation when jobs are on the line.

It takes a selfless player with a team-first attitude to perform the role that McGraw’s been commanding since OTAs began in May. Finding a player who can bridge the gap between being an established veteran who wants to win a starting job and, at the same time, also being a mentor to the young men trying to take that starting job isn’t easy to locate.

But the Chiefs have found it in McGraw.

“With Jon, he’s been like that ever since we got in,” Lewis said. “He took us under his wing and anytime that we have any questions we know that we can go to him and get good advice.”

“Through all of it, he’s been a veteran guy and a guy that when we’re having trouble with anything we can always go to him,” Lewis continued. “There isn’t anything shady where we are all competing for the same position and he won’t tell us something. Jon has been a great guy at helping us and giving us pointers about how to play things different ways.”

When searching for the “Right 53,” there seems to always be a spot for a player like McGraw. He’s captained the special teams for two years in a row, made a seamless transition between two leadership regimes, been able to fill in as a starter when called upon and can play any position in the secondary if necessary.

“I like Jon McGraw,” head coach Todd Haley said. “I think he is a heady player, a tough player. He proved that last year in a couple of different instances. I think he is a team player. He wants to be part of us becoming a good team in whatever role it is.

“He’s what we are talking about what good teams do when you have starters that are veteran starters that are training and helping the younger guys that could take their job,” Haley continued. “When you have that kind of selflessness and that type of team atmosphere I think good things are happening. I think he is an example of that.”

In short, McGraw “gets it.”

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