On a night when Juan Thornhill wanted to shine a spotlight on his brothers from the University of Virginia with his cleats and excellent play, the veteran safety was instead among those sidelined in a game riddled with tough losses.
After Thornhill was forced to exit, the Chiefs’ defense was Justin Reid and an entire unit of rookies with Bryan Cook rising up to play Thornhill’s minutes next to Joshua Williams, Trent McDuffie, and Jaylen Watson. What’s incredible is just how well the unit responded overall defensively in a second half that kept the Chargers to a single scoring drive after watching Justin Herbert and company pile on 20 points in the first half.
Going forward, however, this could be a real problem. If teams know they can pick on the youth of the Chiefs’ defense, then the pressure will remain on defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to generate pressure up front with blitzes, which only further thins out the defense in coverage. Having rookie corners all over is one thing when you have steady vets at safety to communicate and provide help up top. It’s another when they’re all learning together.
The good news is that Brett Veach invested well here. Cook is a second-round pick, just like Thornhill, known for being a big hitter. And remember it wasn’t that long ago that Thornhill himself was dynamic as a rookie performer.
After the game, head coach Andy Reid stated that Thornhill had strained his left calf, so we’ll see just how tender he will be going forward. If Thornhill misses time, all eyes will be on the young secondary.