Minicamp Notebook: Chiefs Defense Looks to Simplify in Building New Foundation

Players like the simple, aggressive approach new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo emphasizing during offseason

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- No doubt the Chiefs defense suffered plenty of stress last season, so it comes as no surprise that linebacker Anthony Hitchens says new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is focusing on making things simpler this season.

“Some coordinators think you keep it simple, everyone plays fast, you get to the ball,” Hitchens said after Tuesday's first of three mandatory minicamp practices. “Some coordinators like to trick it up on third down and first down. (Spagnuolo's) a simple guy. Everyone knows what you're going to get – pressures and keep it simple.”

Cornerback Kendall Fuller agreed that so far, Spagnuolo's scheme has been an easy pick up for him and his teammates.

“It's not too too difficult,” Fuller said. “At the end of the day it's football, you do a lot of the same things. Definitely different techniques and different things coach might ask you to do, but you just work on it every day, you try not to make the same mistake twice and day after day you keep on getting better, keep on getting a better feel for it.

Critics view former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's scheme as too complicated last season. Hitchens said Spagnuolo is installing a “very slim” defense focused on single gaps and playing fast.

“You know exactly who’s right and who’s wrong,” Hitchens said. “There's no, ‘Well, he could’ve done this, that.’ It’s like, 'OK, you have the A-gap, you got the A-gap.' It’s simplified, so when we go to watch film and we go get better, I don’t need the coach behind me watching film with me.” Hitchens feels the approach gets him doing what he's good at from his weakside linebacker spot.

“It just lets you run free a lot, covered up by a three-technique for most of the downs for the Will linebacker, what I'm playing,” Hitchens said. “Less thinking, you just get out there and run.”

Fuller, Duvernay-Tardif Healthy Again

Fuller finished last season with a cast on his right hand after surgery on a torn ligament, while offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif missed the last 13 games of the season with a broken leg. Now, both players are back at near full strength and ready to contribute.

Duvernay-Tardif suffered a Maisonneuve fracture during the Week 5 win over Jacksonville. His surgeon gave him an eight to 12 week range for recovery,so he knew returning before the end of the season was a tight fit.

“I gave everything, pushing the limit every day in order to try to come back,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I was short a little bit, I got activated I think the Seattle week I think, and it took me a little too long to get back in shape.”

During the offseason program he returned to his starting spot at right guard. He says he feels 100 percent.

“Oh, yeah,” he sai. “It’s good to be back out there with the guys and work out and work on my stuff. So far it’s been pretty good to get back in the swing of things and get back to the rhythm of good cadence and technique and work out with the guys.”

Fuller suffered a torn ligament in his right hand during the Week 13 win over Baltimore. He played four days later on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, wearing a brace on his right hand. He underwent surgery the next day, then returned to the field after missing one game. While Fuller feels good now, he expects to be back to 100 percent by training camp. He joked that on Monday he crossed another milestone in his recovery.

“I was able to put my pads on and stuff by myself,” Fuller said. “That was the first time I've done that in a while, so I think that was a good test for me. But other than that I haven't felt it, it's been feeling good.”

Injury and Absence Report

Only two players did not attend Tuesday's opening of the mandatory three-day minicamp. Defensive end Chris Jones remains working on his own in Florida while vying for a contract extension. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill remains indefinitely suspended from team activities.

Tight ends Travis Kelce (ankle) and Deon Yelder (hamstring), offensive lineman Cam Erving (shoulder), safety Juan Thornhill (calf), defensive end Tim Ward (knee) and linebacker Darrius Harris (shoulder) did not practice.

Thornill suffered a calf injury last week, but the club does not consider the injury serious. Trainers expected him to miss at seven to 10 days of work, and he could have returned on a limited basis for minicamp. The team chose to hold him out of the minicamp as a precaution and focus on his return at 100 percent for training camp, a source told Chiefs Digest.

Center Jimmy Murray left practice with a left leg injury. He received assistance walking off the field to the sideline and left practice riding in the front seat of the medical cart.

Tryout Players

Six players are taking part in minicamp on a tryout basis. That group consists of running back A.J. Ouellette, fullback Josh Caldwell, offensive guard Abdul Beecham, linebacker D'Juan Hines, cornerback Hamp Cheevers and safety Dee Delaney.

Caldwell, who played collegiately at Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western, also attended the Chiefs' rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.

Quote of the Day

Duvernay-Tardif on quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the team’s offseason program:

"I think now this year what really impresses me is his ability to be an awesome leader. Right from the get go he was like, 'OK, we're going to get this thing this year,' and being able to rally everybody behind him and lead by example. That's really what you want to see as a quarterback. I think for us as O-linemen, you want to protect and strain your gut to finish every play for a guy like that.”

What's next?

The Chiefs practice again on Wednesday then wrap up mandatory minicamp with a final quick workout Thursday. After that's its summer vacation for coaches and players, who will next report to work at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph for training camp in late July.

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