Mandatory Minicamp is officially underway for the Kansas City Chiefs as the team gets together for the final time before training camp kicks off late next month. It’s an opportunity for every player up and down the roster - from the seasoned veterans to the six tryout players in camp this year – to make an early impression on the coaching staff.
Following Tuesday’s practice, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and cornerback Kendall Fuller all checked in with the media to discuss how the Chiefs’ offseason program has been going.
Here are five things that stood out.
1. Hitchens was asked about his comfort level in the Chiefs’ new defensive scheme under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who is deploying a 4-3 base defense this year in place of Kansas City’s old 3-4 scheme.
“It’s very similar to what I had been playing in my first four years in Dallas. A lot of over – and a little bit of under - 4-3 defense,” Hitchens said. “It’s a very similar situation - just different terminology and different names and different coverages. But for the most part, it’s a 4-3 under-over that I’m very comfortable with.”
The Chiefs have undergone some major changes on defense this offseason under Spagnuolo - from the scheme to a slew of new players and coaches – but while Hitchens isn’t new himself, the veteran linebacker’s comfort with Spagnuolo’s defense could be just as pivotal. After all, it was only a year ago in Dallas’ 4-3 scheme that Hitchens hit the open market as the top run-stopping linebacker available, according to Pro Football Focus.
2. Speaking of the Chiefs’ linebacker corps, Kansas City added free agent Damien Wilson this offseason after four seasons with Dallas.
Hitchens and Wilson spent three years together with the Cowboys and are now reunited in Kansas City after a year apart. In fact, it turns out that Chiefs’ General Manager Brett Veach asked Hitchens about Wilson during the free agency process.
“I mentored him a little bit in Dallas for my three years with him there. Veach and them asked me about him and I told them all good things. He’s here and he’s doing a good job,” Hitchens said. “Coaches love him. He’s one of those guys that runs to the ball. He just doesn’t stop. I’m excited to be able to play with him again and he’s going to be able to help our team out a lot.”
For what it’s worth, Wilson was primarily used as a strong-side (or SAM) linebacker during his tenure in Dallas. The duo of Hitchens and Wilson made 13 starts together over their three years with the Cowboys, with Wilson generally at strong-side linebacker and Hitchens in the middle, but the two players did a little bit of everything.
It will be interesting to see how Spagnuolo uses both players in 2019.
3. Elsewhere on defense, Fuller was asked for his thoughts on Spagnuolo’s scheme and how tough it is to digest.
“It’s not too difficult. At the end of the day, it’s football. You do a lot of the same things,” Fuller explained. “[There are] definitely different techniques and different things that coach might ask you to do, but you just work on it every day, try not to make the same mistake twice and day-after-day, keep on getting better and keep on getting a better feel for it. As a group, we’re getting better.”
4. Fuller went on to explain his initial impressions of Spagnuolo, who has by all accounts earned the respect of the locker room in a rather quick amount of time.
“I love him. Just that fire, he wants to compete,” Fuller explained. “He wants to see everybody get better, see everybody do well. On the field of course, but also off the field, he wants to see guys mature and see them do good off the field. He asks a lot of us on the field and pushes us and motivates us every single day. [He has] good energy.”
It may just be minicamp, but Spagnuolo is clearly making quite an impact already.
5. Finally, Duvernay-Tardif was asked about his health after a leg injury cost the veteran guard much of the 2018 season.
“It’s good to be back out there with the guys, working out and working on my stuff,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “So far, it’s been pretty good to get back in the swing of things and get back into the rhythm of good cadence and technique and working out with the guys.”
The recovery experience was a unique one for Duvernay-Tardif, who graduated from medical school in his native Quebec last year.
“It was my first experience being on the opposite side of the patient -physician relationship and even though it’s kind of hard, I think you learn a lot,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I think I’m going to be a better physician because of that. You learn how to cope with the psychological challenge of being injured and I think I’m going to grow as a human and a future physician.”
Duvernay-Tardif, Fuller and Hitchens will all return to the field on Wednesday as minicamp continues.