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KC Chiefs bring back veterans to mentor younger players

When Jordan Lucas was suddenly called into action against Jacksonville two weeks ago, the safety hadn’t taken a single defensive snap as a Chief.

Being thrown into the middle of a game with less than six weeks of learning Bob Sutton’s system could be daunting.

But playing alongside veteran safety Ron Parker, who has thousands of snaps with the Chiefs under his belt, made the chaotic situation much easier.

“My role is to give back to the younger guys and give all the knowledge that I know to help them play in the defense, to help them get better as a player,” Parker said. “So they can out there and play fast on Sunday so that everybody can be on the same page.

“I feel like that’s my role as an older guy, just to go out there and just to give back everything I know, being that I played in this defense for some years.”

Parker is just one of a handful of former players re-signed by the Chiefs this season. Not only do these players bring stability to their position groups, plugging holes created by injuries, but they also serve as extra coaches on the field as they help the younger players adjust to the Chiefs’ complex schemes.

“We’re all teaching each other the ropes,” Parker said. “Just pass whatever we know down to the next guy, because the defense, it’s a tough defense to learn. It’s tough for anybody just to come in and pick it up right off the bat.

“The more knowledge that we can pass back for those guys, it’ll be better for them to get on board with us and we can rock the ship.”

Parker was the first old face to return to the Chiefs this season, but in the last week, the organization has added a couple more in linebacker Frank Zombo and guard Jeff Allen.

“I can teach the playbook,” Zombo said last week.

Zombo might have been joking when he said it, but he’s not wrong. After five years in the organization, he’s a valuable commodity because he knows what’s going on in the scheme, and he can help the younger players pick it up faster.

Entering the league in 2010, Zombo is on the back end of his career. He was candid about that much when he talked with the media about his return to Kansas City. He may not end up having a huge impact with his individual performance on the field this time around, but his knowledge is invaluable to younger players like rookie Breeland Speaks and second-year player Tanoh Kpassagnon.

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Allen, signed on Tuesday, played for the Chiefs from 2012-15. With injuries to Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the Chiefs needed to bring in reinforcements on the line. With Allen’s experience, he was the perfect fit for the job.

With that formula, it might seem like linebacker Derrick Johnson, recently cut by the Raiders and the Chiefs’ all-time leading tackler, would be a good fit to rejoin his old team. But Reid shot down that idea down Wednesday.

“Right now, as much as I know,” he said, “that’s not the direction that we’re going in.”

Previous Chiefs regimes also liked bringing in players who previously played for them.

During Scott Pioli’s tenure as general manager, the Chiefs brought in quarterback Matt Cassel, who played under Pioli while Pioli was vice president of player personnel in New England. In that same trade, Pioli also brought Mike Vrabel from the Patriots to the Chiefs.

But unlike the moves made by today’s Chiefs front office, those acquisitions were made to give the team immediate starters.

These Chiefs seem to like setting up their younger players with as many player mentors as possible, and that doesn’t always mean bringing back old faces.

During Mahomes’ first season, he worked closely with Alex Smith, learning successful habits from the starting quarterback first hand.

“He could watch, see somebody that did it right,” Reid said. “You could tell him as a coach and do all that as a coach, but when you have a player that you’re around with the coaches aren’t there, and he’s doing the right thing, I think that pays out. You can’t pay for that.

“Alex, when the coaches were away, didn’t sneak out the door. He didn’t not lift. He went and did, he ate right, he lifted, he studied the right way. He came in on days off and worked. That’s how he went about his business. And so, here Patrick has a chance to see that.”

And with the re-signings of veteran Chiefs, other players in the locker room have a chance to get the same hands-on education.

Brooke Pryor

Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.

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