Where Will Willie Gay Jr. Fit in the Chiefs' Defense?
Kansas City Chiefs rookie linebacker Willie Gay Jr.’s position on the 2020 depth chart should become a little more clear in the near future.
Gay discussed his familiarity with the strong and weakside linebacker roles that he could potentially fill in Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense during a virtual press conference on Saturday. His experience began at Starkville High School, before carrying over to a three-year stint at Mississippi State.
“SAM and WILL are something I’ve played since High School,” Gay said. “Playing off the edge and playing outside in and even playing WILL and sometimes playing inside out. It’s natural because I’ve played it for so long.”
Each of Gay’s six starts with the Bulldogs were at the weakside (WILL) position. He appeared in 31 games and left Mississippi State with 99 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, thre interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Spagnuolo didn’t name a specific spot for Gay when he spoke in May, as Arrowhead Report’s Tucker Franklin wrote at the time.
“I think we’ll probably begin with Willie at one of the outside positions,” Spagnuolo said. “We think without knowing right away, or we’re hopeful, I should say, that that he would replace what [strongside linebacker] Reggie Ragland did for us last year. I preface that by saying we won’t know that until we get him in.
Ragland left the Chiefs during free agency and signed a one year, $1 million contract with the Detroit Lions. Ragland's role with the Chiefs evolved over the years as the Chiefs' defense changed. In his first year with Spagnuolo, Ragland played over 230 snaps, with his role increasing after weakside linebacker Darron Lee's role decreased after Week 6. Ragland bounced around, but Gay likely projects as a weakside linebacker who can stay on the field in obvious coverage downs, something that Ragland did not do in 2019.
Chiefs players didn’t end up entering team facilities until training camp report dates arrived last week. While there were virtual training sessions throughout a good part of the offseason, Gay and other rookies will have to play catch-up.
Since camp isn’t open to the public or media in light of COVID-19, Gay’s progression into Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense might not be known until the season begins September 10. His role could become apparent when a depth chart is released.
A lower amount of reps due to the modified offseason could leave Gay starting his career as a pass-rusher in blitz packages. Gay said he’ll be ready to blitz, no matter where he’s placed.
“I feel like I can blitz from anywhere on the field,” Gay said. “I would love to be a part of a blitz package, and coach can use me as much as he wants and help the team out on third down, if that’s what he wants, to show that I can blitz.”