The talk about the first look at the 2020 version of the Kansas City Chiefs from their opening game has mostly been about the play of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and what he meant for the offense in his NFL debut.
And while Edwards-Helaire was no doubt awesome, perhaps being somewhat overlooked is another player who played in his first NFL game last Thursday night: cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.
“That’s the reason why we went out and got him,” Chiefs defensive backs coach Sam Madison said of the 6-foot-1 Sneed on Thursday. “He is able to run, he’s tall, he’s long and you look at our corners from last year, you know he just fit that mold — but it’s been a transformation for him. Understanding the speed of the game from college, coming to the pros and not really having any OTAs and quarterback school, he was able to pick it up very fast.”
Filling in for the suspended Bashaud Breeland — a 2019 staple for the Chiefs — the rookie led Kansas City cornerbacks with 55 snaps in coverage, allowing just two catches for 19 yards on six targets. Sneed broke up two passes and registered the first pick of his career in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs told Sneed he had earned the right to start toward the end of training camp last month, and he performed well against a speedy Texans receiver group including Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller.
Sneed shared that when he arrived home after the game on Thursday night, he was greeted by family members who were excited by his performance.
“First of all, my mother was proud of me for what I did in the game — and my son, he went crazy when I came home, when he saw me walking in the door.”
There is a case to be made that the task only gets tougher this week, with the Chiefs taking on the Los Angeles Chargers featuring the likes of pass-catchers Mike Williams and Hunter Henry — and a familiar foe in wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is quick to remind young players that they are always judged on their next game.
“He did some real good things,” said Reid. “He’ll be tested this week—they’ve got good, big wide receivers and physical kids and it’ll be another look for him that he’ll have to adjust to. Every week will be great for him as he goes. But for your first time out, heck, he had an interception and made some nice plays on the ball. I’d say it was a positive performance. And he’ll learn that every week you’ve got to do that, so he’s got to make sure he prepares himself right this week just like he did for the Texans, then he’ll have to do it the next week and the next week — that’s how it works here. So, all that’s an adjustment period for him as he gets used to that.”
How well Sneed played against the Texans was not as much of a surprise as how soon he played well. Being a fourth-round pick from a small school like Louisiana Tech, debut games like that aren’t supposed to happen. But he might owe some of that credit to his teammates.
Madison said that Breeland and his opposite starter — Charvarius Ward — worked with Sneed to make him comfortable during training camp. The Chiefs are without Breeland for three more games, and Ward could potentially miss Sunday’s game against the Chargers due to a broken hand.
That shifts pressure right back onto Sneed and the other younger players in the team’s secondary.
“It’s good that LJ has a game under his belt and that Rashad (Fenton) got out there and played a little bit last year,” noted Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. “I think any of the other nine guys need to step up. We need to help them here and there, make sure the quarterback isn’t sitting back there with the ball too long, which is where our D-line comes into play. I’ve got to call certain things to help those guys out. All of that in mind, hopefully, we can wrap it up into a good package — and certainly, all 11 of us will have some success and make sure those guys have it too.”
And for what it is worth, Sneed realizes maintaining that same hungry feeling he had entering the opener will be a key to his success.
“I had a big mindset going to the Houston game — my mindset is not going to change,” he said. “I’m just trying to better myself on what I made my mistakes on last week and I’ve been studying them, and also I bet they’ve been studying me.
“I’m young — but you know, I’m going to go out there and give my best.”