When Vance Walker spoke to Chiefs coach Andy Reid during free agency, one of his concerns — along with playing time and money, of course — was the personality of the locker room he’d be entering.
“He said, ‘It’s a good group of guys,’ ” Walker said.
Walker, 27, obviously trusted Reid, because he signed a three-year, $13 million contract. But to get the truth, he had to see for himself, a process that began at the start of offseason workouts in April and continued through the remainder of organized training activities, which concluded in late June.
But by the last week of OTAs, Walker — who spent the first five years of his career with the Raiders and Falcons before joining the Chiefs — had reached a verdict.
“You know, I’ve been in locker rooms … but I feel like they actually care about people here and say ‘Hey dude, how are you doing,’ ” Walker said. “It’s never really been like that where I’ve come from. I’ve had good friends on teams, but for the entire locker room to be like that, that’s a great thing.”
Walker said it didn’t take long for his teammates to make him feel welcome in Kansas City.
“Just small things, nothing big,” Walker said. “Just eating lunch and having guys that you don’t even know come up introducing themselves. Offense, defense, it doesn’t matter. They just want to know who you are, what school you went to, and you go from there. Like I said, there’s never really been anything like that as far I’ve seen in the past. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel like it builds a better, closer team.
“If I’m invested in the other guy’s well-being — which you should be — it makes a big difference.”
After an offseason that saw the team lose several key contributors from last year’s 11-5 team — and with a tougher schedule on tap — the Chiefs certainly hope so. But if good chemistry can help them avoid a regression, so will a stronger pass rush, and that’s where Walker comes in.
The Chiefs let last year’s starter at defensive end, Tyson Jackson, go in large part because he was limited as a pass rusher, and with the way teams are throwing the ball these days, teams need their interior linemen to rush the quarterback.
Walker had only three sacks last season — one fewer than Jackson, actually — but was more disruptive as a pass rusher, according to Pro Football Focus. While Jackson could manage only eight quarterback hurries in 509 snaps last season, Walker quadrupled that with 32 in 791 snaps.
Thus, it was widely assumed that when Walker signed in March, he’d easily slide right into Jackson’s vacant spot next to fellow linemen Dontari Poe and Mike DeVito.
But during OTAs, at least at the outset, it was fourth-year pro Allen Bailey who got the majority of the first-team snaps, with second-year pro Mike Catapano working in.
Walker spent most of his time on the second team, though he started to earn additional first-team reps by the end of camp, and he says he completely understood why.
“You’ve got to learn,” Walker said. “It’s just a respect thing. There’s guys were here working their butts off, and I’ve got to work my butt off. I can’t come in here and be like ‘Hey, you know, I’m the guy.’ That’s not the type of person I am, and they know that.”
That said, Walker is looking forward to earning the starting job when training camp begins July 24. He feels accepted as a Chief, and it’s clear he’s ready to start giving back, whether it’s as a starter or part of a rotation.
“We’ve got a lot of good players, and that’s what you need,” Walker said. “I know it starts up front. Poe, Mike, any of those guys, I wouldn’t mind putting my hand down next to them and trusting them.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.