Cheerful Chiefs locker room is full of levity as regular season nears
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Jones tried to keep a straight face as he stood in front of his locker in the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility, a gaggle of reporters huddling around him to catch his every word.
It was tough with Derrick Nnadi, all 312 pounds of him, standing on a folding chair right behind Jones, flexing his muscles, jiggling his belly and gyrating — well, gyrating the rest of him.
Jones finally cracked.
“He’s a young guy,” he said with a smirk. “You got to expect that. I still love him.”
Welcome to life in the Kansas City locker room.
On one wall is a basketball hoop, where new running back LeSean McCoy was lofting shots as he headed out the door for a meeting. Over in a corner, the defensive backs were huddled around a stereo, while the offensive linemen traded jokes about right tackle Mitchell Schwartz‘s barbecue.
So much for feeling the pressure of being the three-time defending AFC West champions, or the team that came within a coin flip of reaching the Super Bowl. Or, for that matter, the team favored by so many to finally reach the big game for the first time since winning Super Bowl 4.
Even with the opener in Jacksonville days away, the Chiefs are keeping things lighthearted.
Call them the Cheerful Chiefs.
“The players are all just good friends,” said McCoy, who was released by Buffalo and immediately welcomed by the Chiefs after signing a $4 million contract to join the KC gang over the weekend.
“Sometimes you have superstars,” McCoy explained, “you have this guy with a routine off to the side. But here they’re all on the same page. It’s special. It’s honestly a shock.”
To be clear, not much surprises McCoy these days. He recently turned 31 and has been in the NFL long enough to see just about everything — except success, of course, which the two-time All-Pro still finds himself chasing in Kansas City. And more than the myriad weapons the Chiefs have, including MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it is the attitude that McCoy believes is championship stuff.
Nobody points fingers. Nobody plays the blame game. When he arrived and was likely to take some of the carries from starter Damien Williams and backup running back Darwin Thompson, those two were among the first to greet him in the Kansas City locker room.
“Everyone in this building has good chemistry because we enjoy each other,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who has become one of the Chiefs’ elder statesmen. “I was joking that I’m glad (McCoy) came into the room because you’re the oldest guy on the team now. The number of young guys we have in the locker room is impressive. Everyone wants to come into the locker room and work every day. When you have a group of guys with one vision in mind, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
It wasn’t always this way in Kansas City. The locker was such a dysfunctional mess under former coaches Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel that the feeling inside the facility was downright toxic.
That began to change when Andy Reid took over before the 2013 season. The roster went through a major turnover, the negativity evaporated, and in its place came a newfound sense of camaraderie and confidence. And the few players who didn’t buy into those beliefs have been similarly jettisoned over the years — the trade of volatile cornerback Marcus Peters serves as a prime example.
The talent has slowly improved, too, and the Chiefs have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL entering Week 1. But that close-knit locker room also helps as the Chiefs chase an AFC title.
“Coach Reid has done an outstanding job of building a family,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “One thing we take a lot of pride in here is our guys understand the big picture. This isn’t about the individual. This is about the organization and the team.”
NOTES: Special teams coach Dave Toub said WR Tyreek Hill will return punts against Jacksonville, but the Chiefs will monitor his use on offense as well. “I don’t want to put a tired guy back there, either,” he said. … Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said DE Emmanuel Ogbah will help replace Breeland Speaks, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury. Ogbah dealt with an oblique injury in training camp. “We’ll miss Breeland,” he added. “Hopefully, he gets back healthy next year.”