A welcomed discovery during the 2021 NFL season was the emergence of Kansas City Chiefs rookie linebacker Nick Bolton.
Bolton enters his second NFL season as a cornerstone of the Chiefs’ future on the defensive side of the ball. He won’t have familiar names like Anthony Hitchens or Ben Niemann in the locker room to rely on this year, but he’s been working hard all offseason to prepare for their absence.
“I feel a thousand times better going into this training camp,” Bolton said. “Again, I got all OTAs, a second OTAs underneath my belt and kind of got the scheme kind of settled in and so I’m excited for what we got going forward, feel very comfortable again. You know I’m just excited to get out there, I’m ready to get out there and showcase everything I’ve been doing.”
The green dot is rather firmly in the hands of Bolton this year. He’ll be playing middle linebacker and calling all of the defensive plays, just as Hitchens used to do for the defense. Having the offseason to purely focus on football, instead of preparing for the NFL draft has allowed for him to improve his game in an entirely different way.
“It has been huge, getting the opportunity to actually focus on football,” Bolton said. “I’m actually doing things I feel like (will) help me on the football field and help our team better. So having the whole time since we got done with the season knowing what I wasn’t as good at and kind of getting a little bit better at those aspects of it and dissecting my play as well, that’s going to help our defense and help our team out. So, it’s beneficial for me just to be more flexible and kind of work on more specific drill-oriented things and also just work on things that are more specific to our skills rather than doing drills and stuff I feel like was more beneficial for me.”
Bolton appeared in 16 regular-season games for the Chiefs last season, starting 12 of them. He led the Kansas City defense in total tackles with 112 and showcased maturity beyond his years. One specific area that the linebacker hopes to grow this offseason is improving his ability in pass coverage.
“Everything you mentioned goes into it,” Bolton explained. “Film study, kind of getting more of our scheme and understanding what (Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) Coach Spags wants on third down. Seeing the whole year, watching Ben (Niemann) do it last year and kind of understanding the schemes and what situations kind of arise and how we attack the offenses, so it has been great to have that whole offseason to study and figure out what we want to do on third down. Again, it’s just a lot of things, working on pass coverage, working on understanding route concepts and schemes and what teams are trying to get to with certain down distances. So, all that goes into it, but yeah, I’m excited for it. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to play all three downs, but nothing is guaranteed so I’m going to go out there and compete for my spot.”
Bolton impressed many around the league with his playmaking ability last season, but he seems poised to take another step forward with the defense in 2022.