KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Kansas City Chiefs started training camp, coach Andy Reid indicated rookie Breeland Speaks would need to improve as a pass-rusher if he was going to earn much playing time at outside linebacker.
Reid and the Chiefs will find out Sunday night whether Speaks has progressed when they face the Patriots in New England.
Speaks hasn’t played a lot this season, but suddenly he looms as an important figure. The Chiefs are likely to be without one of their best pass-rushers, Justin Houston, because of a hamstring injury.
A top reserve at outside linebacker, Tanoh Kpassagnon, also might not play or could be limited because of an ankle injury.
That leaves Speaks to join Dee Ford as the main edge rushers against Tom Brady and the Patriots, who have scored 38 points in each of their past two games. Speaks, who has no sacks but did recover a fumble in last week’s game against Jacksonville, said he would show Reid and the Chiefs the progress they’re looking for.
“It just took me some time to get acclimated,” said Speaks, a second-round draft pick. “I feel I’m ready to go. I’m a lot more comfortable with the defense. I’m more comfortable in coverage. I’m playing with confidence now so I feel good.
“I feel like it’s coming really well. Each week is getting better and better.”
The Chiefs used an interesting pass-rush strategy against Brady and the Patriots last year, a 42-27 victory for Kansas City in Week 1. The Chiefs dropped eight players into coverage and rushed Brady with three on 14 of his 27 pass attempts in the first three quarters and had no sacks.
In the fourth quarter, after the Chiefs took the lead, they rushed four or more players on 12 of Brady’s 13 attempts and sacked him three times. Houston had two sacks and lineman Allen Bailey one.
Ford has played well this season. He’s tied with Bailey for the team lead in sacks with four.
Bailey has been a pleasant surprise for the Chiefs as a pass-rusher. He’s on a pace to break his season high for sacks of five set in 2014.
“The No. 1 quality of good rushers is that they’re relentless,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “They’re relentless within a play, relentless within a series, relentless within a game. Allen is probably one of the best examples of that. He just keeps rushing. He’s had two or three sacks this year just out of great effort where he’s chased the quarterback out of the pocket and ran him down along the sideline.”