The pads went on Monday at the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp — and the gloves came off.
After a nearly three-hour practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the centerpieces of the Chiefs’ off-season defensive rebuild made a bold proclamation.
“I feel like we did wonderful,” defensive end Frank Clark, who was acquired via draft-week trade with the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick, said. “We’re 1-0. We won today. The defense, we won today, for sure.”
The Chiefs’ defense didn’t do much winning last season.
Aside from racking up sacks, Kansas City's defense struggled in pretty much every other aspect under former coordinator Bob Sutton, who was fired after the defense was unable to get a stop in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.
Clark, who signed a five-year contract worth $105.5 million after the trade, and safety Tyrann Mathieu, who signed a three-year deal worth $42 million as a free agent in the off-season, are expected to provide leadership as the Chiefs’ defense aims for a turnaround.
“I feel like we can be very good, but the first step is creating that competitive atmosphere...” Clark said. “When you look around and see total defense, we ranked 31st in the league (last year), that doesn’t make anyone proud. As a fan, as a coach, as a player, you shouldn’t be proud.”
But Clark was proud of the defense’s effort Monday, and he wasn’t alone.
“They’ve got us thinking a little bit as far as moving around, trying to disguise a lot of stuff and just guys out there competing...” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “I think that’s the best part. We can make each other better.”
Kansas City’s offense should remain a high-octane group under coach Andy Reid’s tutelage and led by reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, who became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 50 touchdowns and at least 5,000 yards in a single season.
If the defense can improve even marginally, all the preseason hype and the Super Bowl expectations will be justified.
“The guys worked hard and challenged each other,” Reid said. “We keep that pace up and keep sharpening up with the plays on both sides, and we’ll be better… Those offensive guys have been together for a while, so it’s good to get the defense out there and challenge them, like they were. Man, it was beautiful. That’s why you get better.”
While the team is only one real practice into a new defensive regime, it’s clear that things are different.
“They just know what they’re doing and they’re all connected together,” Watkins said. “They’re all communicating; they’re all yelling. I’m like, ‘What the freak is going on?’”
At least some, if not most, of the credit for that new attitude belongs to Clark.
“He loves to play, and that’s the part you love about him — even when he was the opponent — the way he went about his business,” Reid said. “Now that he’s on your team, you love it even more. That’s infectious, all the way across — both sides of the ball.”
There's no secret why that is. Clark simply wants to win and we wants to infuse the defense with that same mentality.
“We come in here to win, we come in here to compete and we want to be the best…” Clark said. “I’m looking at Pat Mahomes on the other side. I’m looking at Travis Kelce. I’m looking ‘Cheetah’ (Tyreek Hill). I’m looking at Sammy Watkins. I can keep going... When you’ve got those type of guys on the other side of the ball and you’re forced to go out there every day, forced to look at them, you want to compete. So, every day is a battle. Every day, you’re going at it to get better. When you’ve got an offense like that in front of us, there’s no telling the limits and the heights our defense can go to.”