Chiefs’ Thornhill seeks to fill Honey Badger’s void

Jun 15, 2022, 12:34 AM | Updated: 1:55 pm

Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Devon Key (42), safety Justin Reid (20) and safety Juan Thornhill...

Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Devon Key (42), safety Justin Reid (20) and safety Juan Thornhill (22) stretch during the NFL football team's organized team activities Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The prevailing narrative was that the Kansas City Chiefs signed Justin Reid away from the Houston Texans in free agency when they decided to move on from three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu.

It was a one-for-one substitution, nice and tidy.

The reality is that Mathieu’s replacement might have already been on the team in the form of Juan Thornhill, who has been an in-and-out of the lineup starter his first three seasons in the league. With the departure of Mathieu and Dan Sorensen in free agency, Thornhill is the only safety on the roster with much experience in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.

Thornhill also has a more versatile skillset than Reid, who is the quintessential hard-hitting safety, with a unique ability to not drop into coverage but also blitz the quarterback and step into the box against the run.

“I love it, being the oldest guy in the room with a bunch of rookies,” the 26-year-old Thornhill said after a sweltering practice during Kansas City’s three-day mandatory minicamp. “I need to lead the way, take on that role.”

He had a great role model himself in Mathieu, who arrived in Kansas City around the same time Thornhill was drafted.

For the past three years, Thornhill has had the best seat possible to watch Mathieu not only ply his trade on the field, but exhibit the kind of off-the-field leadership that made him invaluable. Mathieu was the ringleader of the defense, the one who got players into the proper position on defense and gathered them at his house for barbecues on days off.

Mathieu, who has experience with two torn ACLs, also helped Thornhill deal with a devastating knee injury that ended his rookie season, and for a while sidetracked what had been a promising start to his career.

“I was really quiet when he was here because I knew that he was the type of guy to be the leader, and I’d just follow in his footsteps,” Thornhill said. “Now it’s my time to take on that role and get everyone lined up.”

That includes Bryan Cook, a second-round pick out of Cincinnati who could become a crucial piece of the defense.

“It’s definitely a role I want to take on,” Thornhill said. “I want the guys to have fun. Sometimes playing this game, it can feel like there’s a lot of pressure on you, but we don’t want that pressure. We just want to go out there and have a lot of fun and enjoy the game. That’s when you make a lot of plays, when you’re comfortable and bonding on the field.”

Make no mistake: This is a big year for Thornhill.

He started all 16 games as a rookie fresh out of Virginia, making 58 tackles with three interceptions and a touchdown. But the injury lingered into Year 2, when he started just eight of 16 games and watched his playing time dwindle, and Thornhill was left fighting for his place in the base defense headed into last season.

He wound up starting 12 of 17 games with a career-high 64 tackles, setting him up well for a crucial contract year.

The Steelers reportedly set the market for safeties earlier Wednesday when they agreed with Minkah Fitzpatrick on a $73.6 million multiyear deal that includes $36 million guaranteed. That follows big contracts that have been handed out to Seattle’s Jamal Adams, Baltimore’s Marcus Williams and Justin Simmons of AFC West rival Denver.

“I got high expectations. It’s as simple as that,” Thornhill said. “I’m planning on playing my best football, by far — at the top of my game. I’m expecting an All-Pro season. I’m saying that right now.”

In other news, the Chiefs said defensive end Frank Clark was excused from practice for the second straight day while rookie cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Joshua Williams did not work out after leaving with trainers on Tuesday.

Others that did not practice included left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who has yet to sign his franchise tender and is not required to report; running back Jerick McKinnon, who was signed just this week; backup offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho; defensive end Malik Herring; and right tackle Lucas Niang, who is still rehabbing a knee injury.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid is expected to discuss the minicamp after the final practice Thursday, then the Chiefs will take the rest of the summer off before reporting in late July to their training camp at Missouri Western State University.


More AP NFL coverage: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

3 months ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

3 months ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

3 months ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

3 months ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

3 months ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

3 months ago

Chiefs’ Thornhill seeks to fill Honey Badger’s void