Here’s how Breeland Speaks fits into Chiefs’ new defensive scheme ... or so they hope

Steve Spagnuolo adjusts to newness in Kansas City

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is getting acclimated to life with a new team and a new coaching staff.
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Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is getting acclimated to life with a new team and a new coaching staff.

The wrecking-ball approach to the Chiefs’ defense commenced with a change in leadership. And with it came a change in scheme.

That leaves the team’s leftover defensive personnel — the hangovers from the past regime — with adjustments to make as the Chiefs meet for organized team activities this month and into June.

Some have more adjusting to do than others.

For Breeland Speaks, the team’s second-round draft choice from 2018, the alterations could feel more like a return to familiarity. And, if all goes as planned, a return to his comfort zone.

New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo tossed aside Bob Sutton’s 3-4 defense in favor of a 4-3 base. Among its benefits: It offers more similarities to the scheme Speaks played in college at Mississippi.

“He was playing a position that was a little different for him,” Spagnuolo said of Speaks’ rookie sesaon. “I actually went back and watched his college tape — he was inside a lot. He was a defensive end. He did some good things. I think he’s a little more comfortable being there. But we’ve got a ways to go.”

That’s the tape that caught Chiefs general manager Brett Veach’s attention — enough for the front office to make a move to draft Speaks 46th overall in 2018.

Speaks used his big frame (6-3, 285 pounds) to bulldoze over college linemen rather than trying to squeeze around them as an edge rusher. The Chiefs didn’t see much of that in his rookie season, when he compiled just 15 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. But he transitioned to a new role, not just a new league. Under Sutton, Speaks was classified as an outside linebacker, a bit of an awkward fit.

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At first glance, the February change in coordinators would seem to provide Speaks a chance to play more of a natural 4-3 defensive end.

Maybe it will. In time. For now, Spagnuolo has a different idea in mind.

“Hopefully he’s going to be a multiple (positions) guy,” Spagnuolo said. “Guys like that are valuable — that can play a bunch of different positions. Well see where we are when we get down to the 53.”

Indeed, Speaks is already rotating along the line during OTAs, Spagnuolo said. Defensive end, sure. But even more interior, too.

The Chiefs think those spots will supply better fits for his strengths while also addressing some needs. That’s the hope anyway.

And not just for Speaks. On Thursday, the Chiefs coaches spoke in similar vein with Tanoh Kpassagnon, the Chiefs’ second-round pick from 2017 who totaled only three tackles last year.

“Both guys have done a nice job in the offseason here, done a really good job working to pick up the scheme, to understand the different calls, the different adjustments within the calls,” said Brendan Daly, the Chiefs’ new defensive line coach and run game coordinator.

“I’ve been impressed there. Both guys have been working at multiple positions, so there’s another level of understanding that’s going on there. I’ve been impressed with both of them from a mental standpoint in how they’ve handled things.”

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