‘We Always Try To Prepare Other Guys’ — Chiefs DB and CB Coach Sam Madison Discusses S Juan Thornhill's Return

Joe Andrews

When asked about the eventual return of second-year safety Juan Thornhill, Kansas City Chiefs cornerbacks and defensive backs coach Sam Madison made it clear that the Chiefs will be ready to start the 2020 season with or without Thornhill.

In his Thursday videoconference with the media, Madison did not address the specifics of Thornhill’s recovery from his ACL surgery in January but said there is plenty of depth to work within the case the 2019 All-Rookie Team safety is not ready to play against the Houston Texans in Week 1.

“That’s coach [Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance] Rick [Burkholder] downstairs, and [Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] — he’s been through this a number of years,” Madison said. “ Just from my understanding, with Juan, we always try to prepare other guys, you never know what can happen. We have some good young talent at the safety position. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate some other players, Rodney Clemons we brought him in, Armani Watts, just to really see what we will be able to add going forward.”

Watts and Clemons sit behind Thornhill and Daniel Sorenson at free safety on ESPN’s projected Chiefs depth chart. Sorenson would likely be first in line without Thornhill but also spent time rotating as a hybrid box safety/sub-package linebacker last season.

The addition of second-round draft pick Willie Gay Jr. should eliminate the need for Sorenson’s rotation at linebacker, but Watts and Clemons can also be alternative options for Thornhill.

Watts is entering his fourth season with the Chiefs and appeared in all 16 games last season, mainly in special teams. His defensive snap count increased as a result of Thornhill’s injury in Week 17. He logged one tackle in the postseason.

On the other hand, Clemons signed as an undrafted free agent last month. He attended Southern Methodist University, starting all 13 games while recording 78 tackles (49 solo), four interceptions and one forced fumble.

The two are expected to have special teams roles but are showing defensive knowledge from virtual install meetings.

“So far, of them picking up and understanding what we’re putting down, for as the scheme, we feel very comfortable putting them out there,” Madison said. “Now we just really have to work on the detailed footwork of how to do the technique. We can show them Tyrann [Mathieu] all day, but they got to go out there and they got to perform.”

Thornhill hasn’t spoken to reporters since his injury but has been active on social media. His latest posts have related to a potential comeback season.

The Chiefs have not provided an official timetable for Thornhill’s recovery, but General Manager Brett Veach has said the safety could be ready for the first game of the regular season. 

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