Chiefs Are Ready to Roll at Linebacker Without Willie Gay Jr.

Not having Gay on the field is a certain loss, but KC is confident in things continuing as usual.

Earlier this week, the Kansas City Chiefs learned that they’ll be without linebacker Willie Gay Jr. for the next four games as the result of an NFL personal conduct policy violation that saw the third-year man get suspended. For a team that’s already down starting cornerback Trent McDuffie, this creates a less than ideal set of circumstances for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit.

With that said, the Chiefs don’t appear to be fretting the loss of Gay too much.

Head coach Andy Reid recently spoke to the media as he and his team continue to prepare for a Sunday afternoon Week 3 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Speculation built earlier in the week about exactly who would be stepping in for Gay in his absence, and the club’s listing of Darius Harris as a starter on its unofficial depth chart appeared to be a step in the right direction. Reid confirmed that on Wednesday, praising Harris’s 2022 preseason performance and saying he’ll do a nice job in relief — among other things.   

“I’ll tell you, he’s smart, he’s instinctive, he’s tough,” Reid said. “He’s got a good grasp of the defense and (Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) Spags does quite a few things within the scheme, so he’s got to be able to process all of that and he does a good job of that.”

Reid also emphasized just how critical the play and leadership of Nick Bolton will be, citing his second-year linebacker as an important piece every week due to him controlling the defense. As Kansas City’s MIKE linebacker, Bolton wears the “green dot” on his helmet and is responsible for getting calls relayed to his teammates, aligning the defense and shifting things around as needed. He’s picked back up right where he left off as a rookie, continuing to play solid football and spearhead Spagnuolo and company’s defensive efforts. 

Bolton also took the podium on Wednesday, speaking about the loss of Gay and how Kansas City will be forced to adjust without him. Like Reid, he spoke glowingly of Harris and reiterated that the 26-year-old veteran is up for the challenge of coming in and not seeing much of a drop-off in production. Directly replacing Gay’s athleticism at linebacker is virtually impossible, but Bolton thinks Harris brings plenty of other positives to the table. 

“Going back to training camp and OTA’s – he’s been here for a while now,” Bolton said. “He knows the scheme like the back part of his hand, kind of similar to me. And so, he comes in every single day and puts his heart out for our team. He executes the game plan, flies around, (and) has fun. (He) plays with great energy. Those are the things that we pride our defense on, so I have no question that he’s going to come in ready to play and make plays for us.”

With Harris in the fold and Gay out of it, the Chiefs will be trusting their depth at linebacker for games against the Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills. That’s no easy slate of offenses to square off against, and missing one of the better athletes and cover linebackers in the league for those games will come with some challenges. Kansas City seems to be mentally prepared for it, though, and Bolton says the team will keep moving forward and be ready in four games to welcome Gay back with open arms. 

“Yeah it’s kind of just, ‘Next man up,’” Bolton said. “That’s kind of the mindset we have right now. I’ve been checking in on him (Willie Gay) as a person (and) as a father, making sure he keeps his head up and we’re going to keep moving forward. Again, we got a lot of guys that come in every single day (and) put work in since training camp to give us an opportunity for us to go out there and play (and) play our best. So, we’re going to keep stacking days and when we get Willie back, we’ll be ready to go. Again, he’ll be missed but we’ve got to keep going.”