3. How the Chiefs use their Linebackers
This one may be the under the radar story that I will have my eyes most peeled for when the defense first takes the field. The Chiefs no longer have Reggie Ragland in the mix, and have added an exciting new rookie into the fold by the name of Willie Gay Jr., who has earned the nickname “Turbo” during Chiefs training camp.
Gay is the type of linebacker that the Chiefs have needed since the prime of Derrick Johnson came to an end. He has the speed to run sideline to sideline, and the willingness to stick his nose in the scrum of things to lay some hits. As a coverage linebacker, Gay gives the Chiefs a weapon to deploy on opposing tight ends and running backs, something that has burned them often in the past.
I am also interested in seeing how the Chiefs play their linebackers in week one. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson project to get most of the work, but Ben Niemann is someone to keep an eye out for.
Last year in the Super Bowl, Reggie Ragland played in 45% of defensive snaps, but it was Niemann the team trusted in the big moments, having him on the field in 4th quarter. Niemann also saw 34% of the snaps go his way that game, which was more than Mike Pennel. If he backs up the coaching staffs trust with a few big plays early, he has a chance to carve out a nice role with the team this season.
This is going to be a fun battle between two really good teams, but the Kansas City Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champs and should hopefully start the season 1-0.