KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have had some of the most impactful rookies in the NFL this season.
Defensive backs Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, Bryan Cook and Jaylen Watson have given up some plays in their first season, but they’ve also made game-changing plays throughout the season, especially in the AFC Championship.
Including special teamer Nazeeh Johnson, defensive backs coach Dave Merritt touted the group as “The Fab Five.”
“It’s special, especially since you could understand what it took for us to get here. Coming in as a huge group knowing that there were a lot of obligations, a lot of things that these guys wanted out of us. And we kind of just took and ran with it,” McDuffie said Friday.
The first-round pick recalled one of the first days of organized team activities where all of the defensive rookies came together to learn the defense after a hectic day where players did not know the verbiage of the defense.
“We gotta come together and figure this out before we go out there so we can actually do something for the team,” he said.
McDuffie said rookies from every single defensive position were in the room.
“There was so many days where, at the end of the night, it was just all the rookies together just going over and over and over playbook, language because to us it was all new, it was difficult,” McDuffie said.
“You know it was (Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) Spags’ playbook, but I think the biggest thing was just we just continued to push each other and continue to just be those guys to be like, ‘You know what we got your back. Yeah, you may have a bad play, you may make a mistake out there.’ But at the end of the day it’s a brotherhood, and I think we just all really stuck together really well.”
“All the rookies have been thrown in the fire pretty early in the season,” Watson said. “So the game’s a lot slower to us, we’ve developed a lot, we learned the playbook (and we are) moving a lot faster.”
Spagnuolo said he didn’t know what to make of the rookies when they were drafted, but he’s glad to have seen them take in so much and perform so well on the big stage.
“We didn’t really know what to expect. I mean look it – when you draft somebody in the first round, you know, there’s some higher expectations there,” Spagnuolo said.
“I feel like Trent has met them in what he’s done, and we know he was out for a long stretch, too. I always think that’s very impressive – when you miss that much time as a rookie, and then you can get back in the swing of things. And Trent has not only played the corner position, but he’s played nickel.
“The other guys were a little bit unknown although what we liked about them and what (General Manager) Brett (Veach) identified was the length and some speed and some traits. And you know, I think the coaches have done – Dave Merritt and (Safeties Coach) Donald (D’Alesio) have done a great job with those guys to get them ready to play and so have the players. I mean, they embraced it.”
All of the DBs have bragged about Merritt’s coaching as well.
“Coach Merritt’s been kind of just like that big brother, that father figure who has to take all these young guys with all these different mindsets and ambitions and get them all on the same page to go out there and play as one,” McDuffie said.
“And I think he did a great job at just allowing the vets to really take control of the room and not have him up there and just be like, ‘This is me, me, me,’ but be like, ‘This is (your) team, I’m here to show you, lead you the way and provide help.’ But he’s just allowed us to be us, and I think that’s the best thing he could have done for us.”
“His leadership on and off the field, tries to make us better men and he always preaches – all the vets and all the rookies, we hold each other accountable so that’s a big thing,” Watson said.
“He’s just a great, outgoing, loud dude. You always hear him when you walk in the room, but he’s a great dude.”