As a rookie in 2021, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Nick Bolton scored five starts as Mike (centre) quarterback, netting 38 tackles and two quarterbacks. But the majority of his shots came from centre-back Will (the weak side), where he excelled in sprinting stuffing, earning a defense score of 75.4 from Focus on professional football.
When the Chiefs made the decision to switch from Anthony Hitchens earlier this season, the table was set for Bolton to step in and take his place in the middle of the defense.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Bolton said that while he feels he is making improvements every day, he believes he still has a long way to go.
“I definitely feel like I’m heading in the right direction,” he said. “Playing MIKE is different from being outside.”
In most defenses, it’s the MIKE linebacker’s responsibility to make sure the unit is in the correct alignment — and before the snap, to call the readings and make adjustments. This is why midfielder Mike is often referred to as the ‘midfielder on defense’.
Bolton said he’s ready to take on the increased responsibility – and also noted that Kansas City has many other young defenders ready to step up.
“I feel like it’s time,” said the second quarterback. “I’m not just. [It’s] willy [Gay Jr.]. We have Justin Reed, who came to join. [It’s also] Our youth is on the D line. It’s time to step up and lead the group. He is not one person.
“No one should be able to replace Hitch or Tyrann Mathieu. These guys are special guys. There’s a reason these guys are wearing C. And so it’s up to us to join in as a group, and try to get the players in the best possible position to play.”
The MIKE full-back is expected to play on the sidelines, while Will remains mostly on the weak side of the lineup. Bolton admitted he’s still adjusting to the difference in spacing between his assignments – but he’s getting better at it every day. To help him cover a larger area, he said he focused on improving his fitness.
“Playing in the MIKE position, you will be involved in the play more times than you would in the will mode,” he explained. “I kind of liked where I was carrying the weight last season. So I’m going to get [in] Better in shape the further we go.”
If there was one hit to Bolton after he dropped out of college, he’s struggled defending passes – a problem for any fullback playing in defense coordinator Steve Spagnolo’s 4-3 scheme. In it, the linebacker is expected to fall into coverage in nearly every passing shot.
In 287 coverage shots last season, Bolton allowed 36 of his 45 goals to be completed, prompting the PFF to give him a coverage score of 58.3. Bolton knows he needs to improve in 2022 – and said he sees the field better now.
“As the first year approached, everything was moving quickly,” he said. “But as the season has progressed, everything has kind of slowed down a little bit – so this season, my sight has just opened up, [being] Able to see more objects in the field at once. I have to play a little faster – that’s kind of what I’m aiming for.”
Andy Reed agreed with the linebacker’s assessment, saying that the more reps Bolton gets, the more comfortable he is with trusting his instincts.
“So that’s where I saw him in the running game being really effective. Now he’s able to work in the passing game… and that’s where you see the midfielders jumping a little bit in their first year. And in the second and third year, they got all those reps in the passing game.” – I think it will help them in the future.”
Fortunately for Bolton, he’s facing some of the NFL’s toughest competition when he lines up against Kansas City tight-knit side Travis Kelsey.
“[Kelce] It can make the trunk look different — and run a different path.” “So [I’m] Just kind of learning from him, seeing what he sees when we run area coverage. He runs roads differently versus man cover and things like that. So learn from him, learn how to see himself, learn how they do offense. It helps us take out a tremendous amount.”
But at the end of the day, Bolton knows that to improve his passing coverage, he eventually has to make big plays when it counts.
“I’m trying to take advantage of the shifts. I had two chances late in the season – two of them, [against] Cincinnati, I think I could have attended. Maybe it could have changed the game a little bit. So, just kind of work on this stuff, being in pitchers…when opportunities arise, you have to make it.”
But Reid doesn’t care.
“He’s madly attacking her now,” said the coach.