Justin March had been waiting for Monday’s practice for a while.
It marked the first time in nearly 12 months that March, a second-year inside linebacker from Akron, was allowed to don some pads and assert some degree of physicality.
And true to form, March — who impressed the Chiefs and onlookers before he went on injured reserve last August because of a torn meniscus in his right knee — stepped back on the field and showed a knack for the ball. He scooped up a fumble by receiver Demarcus Robinson during an 11-on-11 session and ran for a would-be touchdown.
“One of our DBs, they made a great play on the ball and they finished, and that’s what we preach a lot, just contesting and finishing every throw,” March said. “They contested the throw, and it looked like a fumble to me, so I just picked it up and I wanted to go to the house with it.”
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During training camp, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton praised March’s instincts and knack for being around the ball, while Dorsey called him the “surprise of camp” and praised his tenacity and mental acuity.
On Monday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid did the same.
“He’s always around the ball, first of all,” Reid said of March. “He’s got a real knack. We saw that last year before he got hurt, and you saw it here today. He’s constantly around the ball.”
March, who is listed at 6 feet and says he weighs around 238 pounds, attributes this knack to playing football since he was 5 years old. He played offensive and defensive line, then slimmed down in eighth grade and played running back and linebacker in high school.
“There are some guys that have that natural instinct — they just get it,” Reid said. “Other guys, they just learn it and become equally as good, but that’s a good starting place if you’ve got that extra sense there.”
March, who recorded 152 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles in his final two years of college, also credits Akron linebackers coach Chuck Amato.
“My old linebacker coach in college always told me that if you’re around the ball, good things happen,” March said. “They preach the same thing here, so I just try to be around the ball as much as I can.”
March is among a trio of young inside linebackers the Chiefs have developed behind star Derrick Johnson and veteran starter Josh Mauga. March shared second-team duties Monday with Ramik Wilson, the Chiefs’ fourth-round pick a year ago, while D.J. Alexander — a fifth-round pick a year ago — also earned some second-team reps alongside Wilson.
“It’s great for them to learn, and it also gives Dave (Toub) some quality special-teams players,” Reid said. “Those special-teams players — the safeties, the tight ends and the linebackers — those are important guys on your special teams. They learn angles there. They can develop. It gives them time to develop and then, learn the defense.”
All three have different strengths, with Wilson being the tallest and heaviest of the bunch at 6-2, 237, and Alexander the fastest (4.5-second 40-yard dash). The good news is that they’re learning how to play both inside linebacker positions, which is crucial because one typically takes on blockers while the other is allowed to run and chase.
Wilson says all three have complimentary skills, which could help if any combination of the three needs to play together.
And while March still has plenty of prove — he must stay healthy, for instance, and continue to master NFL offensive schemes — there’s no doubt Wilson considers him a worthy competitor, despite the fact March went undrafted the same year the Chiefs selected Wilson and Alexander.
“We’ve got a talented young group, especially March — can’t forget about him,” Wilson said. “That boy March is the real deal. March can do anything.”