During a recent practice, Tanoh Kpassagnon treated observers to the oddest of sights.
Here the rookie pass-rusher was, all 6-feet-7 and 280 pounds of him, running down the right sideline, stride-for-stride, with running back C.J. Spiller — a man who once ran a blazing 4.37 40-yard dash and has looked rejuvenated in camp — on a wheel route downfield.
And when the pass landed incomplete, with Kpassagnon right there, those who saw it only had one question — how in the heck did he do that?
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“We’ve got T.K., the freak,” said defensive lineman Chris Jones, who proceeded to call Kpassagnon a more athletic version of himself.
When told of the remark Tuesday, Kpassagnon grinned sheepishly.
“Yeah, I didn’t hear that but that sounds like something Chris would say,” Kpassagnon said. “That’s an honor.”
Thing is, the athleticism is real. Kpassagnon (whose name is pronounced TAWN-oh pass-N-yo) has been spotted running downfield, stride-for-stride, with other running backs in coverage, an indication of the premium athleticism that prompted the Chiefs to select him in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft.
After all, men his size aren’t supposed to be as fast — he runs a 4.83 40-yard dash — or explosive (128-inch broad jump) as he is.
“I think he has done a really good job,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He is going to learn and, obviously, he is a real tall, rangy guy with great length. I think we are trying to find a good role for him.”
Kpassagnon caught the eye of coach Andy Reid — who praised Kpassagnon’s one-tackle performance in the Chiefs’ exhibition opener Friday — and defensive line coach Britt Reid.
“He’s doing a lot of things well — he has a lot of good natural instincts,” Britt Reid said. “He has a lot of pass-rush ability and he’s a big guy who can move. Physically he stands out, but his play on the field also stands out.”
The Chiefs are trying Kpassagnon out everywhere to find the best role for him. That’s meant playing him as a five-technique, with his hand in the dirt while lined up on the tackle’s outside shoulder. That’s also meant playing him as a “4i” technique, with his hand in the dirt while lined up on the tackle’s inside shoulder.
As if all that’s not enough, Kpassagnon — who is currently on the second team — has also lined up shaded on the nose and as a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker in practice.
“I’m learning a whole lot of new things, different things, things I didn’t even know I could do,” Kpassagnon said.
It’s a far cry from college at Villanova, where Kpassagnon was always the most special athlete on the field. Because of that, he was often given free rein to do whatever he liked, especially when he lined up outside the tackle.
“Offensive schemes here are more tricky, so they’re a little harder to read,” Kpassagnon said.
At the moment, Kpassagnon is focused on improving his hand speed, learning pass protections and reading offenses. He also wants to improve his run defense, especially when it comes to setting the edge on downblocks and crackbacks.
The good news is that Kpassagnon said teammates Tamba Hali, Allen Bailey and Jones have all been very helpful as he tries to speed up his learning curve.
“A lot of the older guys try to help the younger guys,” Kpassagnon said. “I have had teammates and friends on other teams that have been going through the same process as I have as a rookie and they have said the older guys weren’t that helpful.”
As a pass rusher, Kpassagnon has looked more comfortable as an inside “4i” rusher in 1-on-1 drills. That makes sense, he said, because he primarily played that position at Villanova.
But while Kpassagnon has shown a knack for pass rushing, the rookie has not yet consistently shown the technique needed to stay inside on potential rush downs. That’s why he figures to primarily see the field inside in rush situations, both inside and outside.
“We are keeping him where he can be a valuable rotation guy, potentially,” Andy Reid said.
But if Kpassagnon keeps displaying freakish athletic ability — like running downfield with running backs who weigh 80 pounds less than he does — it’s not out of the question for him to potentially be more than that, especially next year and beyond.
“I knew I could do it,” Kpassagnon said of his standout coverage against Spiller. “I’ve actually got to get better at it and turn around and get the pick. (Being there) is not enough.”