Chiefs Defense Without Charvarius Ward, Khalen Saunders and Alex Okafor Against Chargers
Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his defensive unit will have to make a few adjustments due to injuries before kickoff against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
The Chiefs announced cornerback Charvarius Ward, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders and defensive end Alex Okafor will sit out of the Week 2 matchup.
The trio did not complete the Chiefs’ 34-20 win over the Houston Texans on September 10 and did not participate in a single practice this week.
Ward fractured his hand, Saunders dislocated his elbow and Okafor tweaked his hamstring. The absence of Ward and Saunders will likely mean an increase in playing time and a brighter spotlight for three rookies: cornerback L'Jarius Sneed, defensive end Mike Danna, and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton.
Spagnuolo didn’t rule out bringing other players into the picture, either.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m very encouraged by what those guys did last week,” Spagnuolo said, referring to Sneed and Wharton. “They were thrown in the fire. We planned to play LJ (L’Jarius Sneed) quite a bit. Terk (Tershawn Wharton) had to hop in there with the injury. Looking to those guys to continue to step up. We’re going to get some more bodies in there.”
Ward’s absence plus Bashaud Breeland’s four-game suspension leaves the Chiefs with Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Antonio Hamilton and BoPete Keyes as the depth chart-listed cornerbacks against the Chargers.
Up until last week, Hamilton was the only member of the list with NFL experience. The feat of course changed for Sneed, who was on the field through 93% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps against the Texans. Keyes was not active.
Spagnuolo could get help from the versatility of safeties Tyrann Mathieu or Juan Thornhill, potentially putting them in coverage at times, but signs point to confidence in Sneed and Fenton specifically.
“It’s good that LJ has a game under his belt and that Rashad got out there and played a little bit last year,” Spagnuolo said. “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.”
Saunders is reportedly expected to miss a month of play. His absence gives Wharton the opportunity to play directly behind starting right defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. Wharton was on the field for 24% of the Chiefs' defensive snaps.
Okafor’s inactivity will leave Tanoh Kpassagnon and Danna as the active defensive ends who could play opposite Frank Clark.
No matter the personnel, Spagnuolo said he’ll have a gameplan ready to help the Chiefs' defense succeed against the Chargers.
“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,” Spagnuolo said.
For a further breakdown of the injuries affecting both the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, listen to Arrowhead Report’s Tucker Franklin and ChargerReport’s Fernando Ramirez on Friday’s Roughing the Kicker Podcast.