The Kansas City Chiefs lost more than just on-field talent when they decided to release linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry earlier this month. They also lost two leaders in the locker room whose presence could take some time to replace.
The answer to who will step up in a leadership role next season isn’t known quite yet, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid thinks he’s got at least a few candidates available. Among them are recently-signed safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive lineman Chris Jones, and linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland.
“I think (Mathieu) coming in will help,” Reid said at this week’s NFL meetings in Phoenix, per Chiefs.com. “He’s got good leadership. As funny and all as Chris (Jones) is, he actually hustles and does those things in practice. He has a good way about him. He will do that. We will see how people develop. Both our inside linebackers (Hitchens, Ragland), both of those guys are good leaders. I’ve learned over time as guys leave, other guys step up. Sometimes it brings out a little different personality and you end up with good leadership from those guys.”
Mathieu and Jones, as Reid mentioned, could be two players to watch. Both players have already shown willingness to take over the role — Jones via Twitter, and Mathieu during his introductory press conference on March 14 when he talked about stepping up in place of Berry.
“No doubt it will be huge shoes to fill, obviously,” Mathieu said. “Playing safety, coming from the SEC, I think Eric Berry was always a guy I admire. He gave me a ton of inspiration, especially all the adversity and things he’s dealt with. It would have been an honor to play with him. But ultimately I think anytime you can steer your own ship and get guys to believe in you and get guys to buy into you the way Eric did, I think that’s my plan.”
With the Chiefs undergoing a personnel and culture change on defense under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, players emerging as leaders could be an important step in turning around a unit that ranked second-to-last in the NFL last season. Mathieu is up for the task, both in terms of improving the defense and taking on the leadership void.
“That’s the challenge. I think that’s also part of the reason I’m here as well,” Mathieu said. “I think we all know what the offense can do. I think it’ll be my job to come in here, try to get some direction, try to give guys some motivation, some inspiration, and then be an everyday factor. I want to be the same guy I am in the weight room that I am in the football field. That’s what I’m really looking forward to bringing to this team, and like I said I’m going to try to do my best to do that every single day.”
“There will be really good football players that will be there at positions that you might kind of hope for,” promises COO Stephen Jones for the pick at 58.
Now it’s a matter of hitting, just as the Cowboys did with some of these guys: Connor Williams (50), Awuzie (60), Randy Gregory (60), DeMarco Murray (70), Tyrone Crawford (81), Maliek Collins (67) and Michael Gallup (81). And that’s looking back to just 2011.
In fact, let’s do this. Let’s look back at the last eight drafts. From those drafts, the Cowboys still have 27 players on their 90-man roster, and of those 27, 17 still are considered starters. In fact, the Cowboys did find 25 players from those eight drafts who started for a period of time, though some have moved on. Guys such as Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Geoff Swaim, J.J. Wilcox, Morris Claiborne, Murray and though he didn’t start regularly, jack-of-all-trades Dwayne Harris.
Plus, those past eight drafts have produced nine Pro Bowl players: Leighton Vander Esch, Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Byron Jones, Martin, Lawrence, Frederick, Smith and Murray.
That means by adding significant draft input from head coach Jason Garrett and vice president of player personnel Will McClay to the Joneses’ over the past eight drafts, the Cowboys, through mostly the draft, have built a roster capable of stringing together four winning seasons in the past five years, three NFC East titles, only one losing season and an overall record of 72-56 and 2-3 in the playoffs – arguably seconds and a no-catch ruling away from becoming significantly better.
Go ahead, add me two potential starters next Friday. Not necessarily 2019 Day Oners, but get me another Collins or Gallup or Awuzie or Lawrence or Woods.
Guys to plug into key roles who just might … just might … grow into becoming a Murray or Jaylon Smith or Anthony Brown or Sean Lee if I may be allowed to go back to 2010 or, uh, for real, a Prescott.
The Players’ Tribune often tells some of the best behind-the-scenes stories in sports from the perspective of those that have lived it, and their recent profile on Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Anthony Hitchens is no different.
Hitchens’ path from suburban Cleveland to the NFL, which The Players’ Tribune detailed in a video feature, is a complicated one that likely wouldn’t have been possible without the compassion of a local family who agreed to take him in at a young age.
“Growing up before I met the Andersons, it was different,” Hitchens explained in the feature. “My family was in and out of jail, and I wanted something more in my life.”
The video explains how Hitchens met his soon-to-be best friend, Zach Anderson, in high school and not too long after, Hitchens spent an evening at the Anderson’s home.
“One night became two nights, and the next thing you know, I had clothes there,” Hitchens said.
The Andersons went on to adopt Hitchens and his brother, James, with the intent of raising the two boys as their own.
“When we look at James and Anthony, there is no difference between when I look at those two and when I look at [my biological sons] Chad and Zach,” said Brad Anderson, Hitchens’ adoptive father. “It’s always been that way.”