Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs’ Hitchens praises Spagnuolo’s scheme, plus Watkins’ solid day, Murray injured

Chiefs LB Anthony Hitchens on the new defensive scheme

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens talks about the new defensive scheme put in place by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after the teams first mandatory mini cap practice on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.
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Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens talks about the new defensive scheme put in place by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after the teams first mandatory mini cap practice on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

Anthony Hitchens is finally back to his comfort zone.

After a season of trying to fit into Bob Sutton’s complex 3-4 defense as an inside linebacker, Hitchens is transitioning back to a scheme that resembles the 4-3 under/over defense he played in Dallas.

“A lot of over, a little bit of under, 4-3 defense,” he said after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “Very similar situation, just different terminology and different names and different coverages.”

Hitchens spent four seasons with the Cowboys, starting 48 games and playing all three linebacker spots. He spent his final two seasons in Dallas at middle linebacker, and he projects to be the starting weakside linebacker in Kansas City.

“It’s simple,” Hitchens said of Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme. “It’s good for a lot of players, good for a lot of coaches. You know exactly who’s right and who’s wrong. There is no ‘Well, he could’ve done this or that’. It’s like, ‘OK, if you have the A gap then you have the A gap.’”

“It’s simplified so when we go to watch film and we go to get better I don’t need the coach behind me watching film with me. … we can correct ourself on the field and we can correct ourself by watching film on our own. It’s not too complicated.

“I just think that right there will make us improve so much more as a defense to not have to go back and watch film as a group. You can just do it on your own on your own time and then just ask questions when you get in the next day.”

Working at weakside linebacker during OTAs and in the first day of minicamp, Hitchens has been able to lean heavily on his instincts.

“It lets you run free a lot,” he said. “I’m covered up by the 3-technique for most of the down for the WILL linebacker like I’m playing. Less thinking and just get out there and run.”

Echoing Hitchens, cornerback Kendall Fuller said the new defense isn’t tough to learn.

“It’s not too difficult,” Fuller said. “At the end of the day it’s football. You do a lot of the same things. (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, keep on getting a better feel for it. As a group, we’re getting better.”

Spagnuolo and his freeing scheme are the inverse of Sutton and his defense. Professorial in nature, Sutton drew up plans with intricate nuances, and his players sometimes disagreed with or were confused by his calls.

“I didn’t have anything against Bob’s defense — we were just in conflict a lot of times,” former outside linebacker Dee Ford told Yahoo’s Terez Paylor after he was traded. “One guy could be my coverage so I couldn’t be aggressive against the run and tee off like I want to.”

Now, Spagnuolo is implementing a simple, yet aggressive, defense with a team of high-energy coaches, including linebackers coach Matt House.

“I like the energy he brings every day,” Hitchens said of House. “He never lets up. He’s definitely an alpha, and we need more guys like that.”

OL Murray injures leg

Center Jimmy Murray was taken off the field in a cart midway through Tuesday’s practice.

Murray, who’s been taking second and third team reps with the offensive line, appeared to injure his left leg and was helped off the field. After a preliminary conversation with the Chiefs’ training staff, Murray rode off the field in the front seat of a cart.

Rookie safety Juan Thornhill was among the players who didn’t practice at all on Tuesday, and he isn’t expected to participate in minicamp as he recovers from a minor calf injury. Thornhill, who was playing with the first team prior to his injury, is expected to return by training camp.

Tight ends Travis Kelce and Deon Yelder, offensive lineman Cam Erving, defensive end Tim Ward and linebacker Darius Harris were all present at minicamp, but did not participate due to injury or rehab

Good hands

Wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Gehrig Dieter had the catches of the day from quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Dieter made a nice grab in traffic on a pass over the middle, while Watkins outran linebacker Reggie Ragland to catch a Mahomes pass in stride for a 35-yard gain.

Watkins’ catch elicited the loudest cheer from the players on the sideline during the nearly two-hour practice. Watkins, the Chiefs’ top receiver with the ongoing suspension of Tyreek Hill, had a solid day of practice, stringing together a couple catches from Mahomes — including five in 11-on-11 team drills.

Not-so-good hands

The tight ends, in particular, had a case of the drops during Tuesday’s practice. David Wells dropped the ball a number of times, while new signee Nick Kelzer and rookie John Lovett had at least one apiece.

With the healthy tight ends struggling and Kelce still sidelined as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery, the position continues to lack reliable depth. Expect the Chiefs to continue the search for a TE2 into training camp.

The tight ends weren’t the only group that struggled to hang on to the ball. Receivers Demarcus Robinson and Marcus Kemp each dropped a Mahomes pass, as did running back Carlos Hyde.

Williams misses team drills

Though starting running back Damien Williams participated in individual drills, he didn’t take part in the team drills later in practice.

Because coach Andy Reid wasn’t scheduled to speak with the media Tuesday, no update was given on Williams afterward.

While Williams watched on from the sideline with helmet in hand, Hyde took reps on first team along with second-year back Darrel Williams.

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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