New Chief Kahlil McKenzie on switch to offense: "Come in, head down, be a sponge"
His classmates joined extracurricular activities, hung out with friends or simply drove home for relaxation. The after-school routine unfolded a bit differently for Kahlil McKenzie.
After the final bell sounded, he often traveled to his father’s offices at the Green Bay Packers and then the Oakland Raiders headquarters, wanting to spend his afternoons in an NFL environment. He grew to have favorite players, such as wide receiver Donald Driver and cornerback Al Harris. He learned the lingo of the game, observed their work ethics and examined the intricate details that helped those guys stick in the league for years.
A decade later, McKenzie is putting those observations to practical use.
The Chiefs drafted McKenzie last month in the sixth round, completing their 2018 draft class, and he is taking part in the team’s rookie mini-camp this weekend.
“You grow up wanting to do it your whole life. Being around guys who are doing this for their jobs, you just get a lot of love for it, a lot of respect for those guys and the time they put in,” McKenzie said. “I’m just trying to take that same approach that I’ve seen other guys take — just come in head down, ready to work (and) be a sponge in the meeting rooms.”
The latter — soaking in every bit of information he comes across this weekend — will prove especially vital as McKenzie transitions from the defensive line, where he played at Tennessee, to the offensive line. Already, it’s been a well-documented positional switch, one approved by his father, Reggie, who now is the general manager of the Oakland Raiders.
Reggie had always envisioned his son as a potential NFL offensive lineman. But it was the Chiefs — not Reggie’s Oakland Raiders — who made it a reality on draft day. Kahlil said Sunday that he never asked about his place on the Raiders’ draft board.
“He has his job to do, and then I have mine,” McKenzie said. “That’s just how it goes. My family, he does what he can. I’m happy for him, and he’s happy for me."
McKenzie has no shortage of resources for guidance in his adaptation. His uncle, Raleigh, played as an NFL offensive lineman for the Chargers, Eagles and Packers. His younger brother, Jalen, was a four-star recruit out of high school who now places along the offensive line at Southern California.
But as McKenzie arrived in Kansas City late last week, he found a new asset — Chiefs offensive lineman Cam Erving. After beginning his college career at Florida State as a defensive tackle, Erving moved as a sophomore to the offensive side, where he resides on the depth chart in Kansas City.
“Me and Cam worked out at the same place back in Knoxville, so me and him have been in contact about the switch, what to expect, all that stuff,” McKenzie said. “Guys on the team (and) Cam, I try to talk to them and pick their brain as much as possible.”
Two years after his conversion, Erving became a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. The Chiefs have similar hopes for McKenzie, bullish on his potential future. After McKenzie’s selection a week ago, Chiefs scout Pat Sperduto cited a list of reasons — a strong base, hand and head placement and his ability to move people.
“This kid is going to look like a first-round pick. He is an impressive player,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “He’s a draftable talent just as a defensive lineman, and he would certainly be on an NFL roster this coming fall if he just played defensive line. But when you watched him at his pro day ... he had such a good workout at guard. It looked natural to him.”
The awkward part comes off the field, a disruption to the family cohesion. McKenzie’s father is in his seventh year with the Raiders. After McKenzie was drafted, he posted a photo on his social media pages, expressing his excitement to join the Chiefs but surrounded by family and friends wearing silver and black.
"Everybody is ready to see me in red and ready to see me go out there and be the best for my team," Kahlil said.