Back in the first month of the season especially, the Chiefs’ production at linebacker was somewhere between abysmal and serviceable depending on the week. Nick Bolton showed solid promise as a rookie run defender even as he was actively lost most weeks in coverage. Anthony Hitchens was the lone reliable player in the mix who was athletic, experienced, and intelligent enough to not get caught in mismatches. Ben Niemann was tasked with assignments outside of his pay grade (read: talent level).
The end result was a frustrating second level for the Chiefs, a unit that allowed opposing defenses to move the chains at will on most drives. Third and long situations were never the problem they should have been for other teams with a front seven so thin and porous. It didn’t help to have clear miscommunication at times to go with poor angles and soft tackling.
Willie Gay has made up for much of that upon his return to go with the maturation of Nick Bolton, and his place in the second level should have been the answer for Austin Ekeler, should he play. Instead, after having Gay back in the lineup for weeks with the results to show how much better he makes them, they now have to face the Bolts without Gay once again. It’s a tough draw that brings to mind the early season woes that Chiefs Kingdom was hoping to forget.