Kansas City Chiefs Versatile CB is back with starters after missing last season: ‘I feel stronger’

Kansas City Chiefs Versatile CB is back with starters after missing last season: ‘I feel stronger’

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid recalls events involving defensive end BJ Thompson during an interview at the Chiefs’ training complex on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Kansas City.

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Nazeeh Johnson broke on a curl route this week, swatting down a throw in Wednesday’s practice as defensive teammates rushed around him to celebrate. A more satisfying moment came later, though. The clip replayed in the Chiefs’ team conference room during a film session.

And defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo offered a two-word message after seeing it again. “Welcome back,” he said to the Chiefs’ third-year cornerback. Johnson smiled Thursday when narrating the sequence to reporters in an interview at the Chiefs Charity Softball Game. “That was the best feeling,” Johnson remarked. “That’s the best thing he’s said to me so far.”

Johnson, a seventh-round pick from 2022 out of Marshall, is finally enjoying full benefits from his work in the last 11 months. Last year, at a training camp session in late July, Johnson tore his ACL while cutting at Missouri Western’s indoor facility. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

Johnson had been one of the early tales of camp, lifting himself at the time to the team’s third cornerback spot behind L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie. “I was on an ascent so fast, and then God had to humble me a little bit. Which we all need it a little bit,” Johnson said Thursday.

“And I’m glad it did, because that showed me how much I really do miss football and how much I really love the game of football.” He’s had to show it repeatedly in the past calendar year. Johnson has worked carefully with a trainer following his August surgery.

Not only has he fought to reclaim his cutting talent, but he’s also increased muscle in his legs, putting himself in a situation where “I feel way better than I did last year.” “I’m not gonna lie: I feel faster. I feel stronger. My hamstrings are a lot more bulletproof,” Johnson said. “Everything around my ACL is coming together.


So now, just picking up where I left off.” The dedication has been there. Johnson claimed he’d been in the team facility five days a week for therapy for the last four months, many times exiting the building after several of the club’s coaches. From there, the team has built him up to get to this position. Johnson only participated in solo drills during the first week of Organized Team Activities before getting some team-period work last week with the third string. Safeties Nazeeh Johnson (No. 13) and Bryan Cook (6) competed on the first day of the Kansas City Chiefs rookie minicamp at the training facility on May 7, 2022. File photo The Kansas City Star This week? Johnson has been running with the 1s and 2s, including when he broke up a different pass in an 11-on-11 drill in Friday’s practice. “I’m just planting without even thinking about it now,” Johnson said of his knee. “So it’s actually really cool.”

Teammates have spotted Johnson returning out there, too. Linebacker Drue Tranquill praised Wednesday’s pass breakup as “a fantastic play.” Spagnuolo, meanwhile, said he was cautiously optimistic about Johnson’s improvement. “I thought he was doing a good job when he got hurt (last year), but we’ll see. ACLs take a while,” Spagnuolo said. “You guys remember (former safety) Juan Thornhill.

It took Juan a little bit to come back, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope he comes back quicker.” Chiefs safety Justin Reid claimed Johnson has been “shaking back” since his injury. “He’s healing remarkably and really moving around well,” Reid said. “So he’ll continue to build his confidence back up, and he’ll be another good player and another weapon for us.”

Johnson should have plenty of competition ahead while vying for cornerback reps. Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson — two additional 2022 draft picks — both appear in line for more prominent roles this season; Watson has sat out much of OTA exercises with what coach Andy Reid described was a “muscle” issue. A main goal, Johnson said, is to bring himself to where he was a season ago.

“But ultimately, just help the team in any aspect,” Johnson said. “If it’s special teams, being the third corner, whatever they need me to do, I’m willing to do for the team, because it’s bigger than me.” Johnson also has relished returning to things he might’ve taken for granted previously. He played in Thursday’s softball tournament — without a knee brace — and even had a running catch in the outfield. Kansas City Chiefs safety Nazeeh Johnson celebrates collecting a fly ball during the Kansas City Charity Softball Game on June 6, 2024, at Legends Field in Kansas City, Kansas.

HG Biggs hbiggs@kcstar.com He also went out with a little prop protecting his left hand. Turns out, on that pass breakup Wednesday, he hit the ground with such power that he hyperextended two of his fingers. Johnson, who stated he was “good” following the slight injury, grinned when glancing down at the apparatus on Thursday.

“This is what you have when you play football,” Johnson added. ”I’m back — this reminds me I’m back to playing football again.”

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