Chiefs Coach Opens the Door for Unexpected Position Battle

Steve Spagnuolo

Getty Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo during the 2023 Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs veteran defensive back L’Jarius Sneed was the best all-around slot CB in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus, grading out higher than every other DB around the league that specializes inside.

With Sneed under contract in 2023, that should lock up the nickel CB position in training camp, right? Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo disagreed during a press conference on June 1, noting that KC would “love for another guy to surface” in the slot this summer.

“I think that we would never give up on always having Trent [McDuffie] and [Sneed] ready to play in there, I don’t think that will ever change” Spagnuolo clarified before adding that “when we want to keep LJ and Trent outside, somebody [else] can go in there… Both those guys can play in there and we’re trying to find another one.”

That opens the door for a different type of defensive back to win a potential backup CB role in the slot, and there are several candidates early on.

Chiefs’ Nic Jones & Dicaprio Bootle Get Early Looks in the Slot

Within that question and answer above, there was confirmation that draft pick Nic Jones and veteran Dicaprio Bootle have gotten some early looks in the slot during Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Arrowhead Pride media member Pete Sweeney discussed this on Twitter after Day 6 of OTAs. “CB Dicaprio Bootle broke up a [Patrick] Mahomes pass during 7-on-7,” he relayed. “Spagnuolo confirmed Bootle and rookie seventh-round CB Nic Jones were working the nickel Thursday… perhaps the beginning of their auditions.”

Sweeny also pointed out that “the cornerbacks will have to beat out last year’s seventh-rounder, CB Nazeeh Johnson, who ST coordinator Dave Toub is very high on.”

Jones and Johnson feel like the favorites for the job, although the versatile Bootle does have a lot of experience in Spagnuolo’s system. Having said that, the other two are recent draft picks and generally speaking, that wins out when the talent level is similar. Johnson also has the added bonus of becoming a core special teamer in 2022 — an area Jones has already gained some attention from Toub as well.

Then there are the versatile cogs like rookie DB/S Chamarri Conner, outside CB Jaylen Watson, and UDFA Ekow Boye-Doe that could rotate in at the slot position, among others.

One final option is priority undrafted prospect Reese Taylor, who snagged a couple of interceptions during rookie minicamp. The 5-foot-9, 188-pound youngster is tailor-made for the nickel CB role, if he were to make the roster this summer.

Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo Says Young Secondary Is ‘Light-Years Ahead’ in Year 2

The overall reports from Spagnuolo on the secondary were very positive. “You can just ask them,” the Chiefs DC replied with a smirk after being asked how much more “comfortable” the young secondary is in year two.

The 2022 “Fab Five” includes McDuffie, Watson, Joshua Williams, Johnson and safety Bryan Cook. Each of those rookies was key in some capacity down the stretch last year — Johnson’s impact came on special teams — and without them, Kansas City probably doesn’t win its second Super Bowl under this regime.

“I sat somewhere with them a week ago and they’re like light-years ahead,” Spagnuolo went on, praising: “And they feel it, and it’s different, and they’re confident.”

The veteran coach was especially happy with the communication occurring on the field between the members of this group — which includes Justin Reid in his mind despite his NFL experience. “From a verbal, being kind of tied [together] standpoint, they were just gelling.”

The hope is that the “Fab Five” — or seven, with Reid and Sneed — can continue to grow together in 2023. One or two new pieces may even join the mix and take on significant roles in year one.

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