Injuries to Chiefs’ linebackers gives new addition Nate Orchard a big opportunity

Facing injuries, Chiefs sign outside lineback Nate Orchard

The Kansas City Chiefs signed outside linebacker Nate Orchard to help after recent injuries to Dee Ford and Justin Houston.
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The Kansas City Chiefs signed outside linebacker Nate Orchard to help after recent injuries to Dee Ford and Justin Houston.

After watching the Chiefs’ outside linebacker depth dwindle in front of his eyes Sunday afternoon, general manager Brett Veach went to work.

He scoured the league for available pass rushers the night after the Jacksonville win, and by Wednesday morning, he had secured two additions to the position group.

The first signing, announced Tuesday afternoon, brought the return of an old face. After spending the last five seasons with the Chiefs and being cut at the end of this year’s training camp, veteran Frank Zombo re-signed with the club.

But Veach wasn’t done there.

Kansas City announced the addition of former second-round pick Nate Orchard on Wednesday morning.

For Orchard, who starred in HBO’s Hard Knocks and was cut by the Browns in the season finale, landing with the undefeated Chiefs is more than ideal. Not only is he joining one of the hottest teams in the NFL, he’s also sliding into a spot where injuries have created an opportunity for more playing time.

“Very fortunate, you know, to be here,” said Orchard, who played three games with Buffalo before being released last week. “And the record that they have, just want to continue to help them doing what they’re doing.”

Pass rusher Justin Houston left Sunday’s game early with a hamstring injury, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid suggested he likely wouldn’t be available against the Patriots.

Neither Houston nor fellow outside linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon practiced on Wednesday. Kpassagnon injured his ankle against the Jaguars, but he returned later in the game.

“I think it’ll be a stretch for Justin,” Reid said. “I think TK will have a chance here.”

Dee Ford, who entered the Jacksonville game with a groin injury, got shaken up a couple of times Sunday, but his injuries didn’t keep him out of the game. Though Ford appeared on the Chiefs’ injury report with groin and hand injuries Wednesday, he was a full participant in practice.

At the end of Sunday’s game, just one outside linebacker was fully healthy: rookie Breeland Speaks.

But against the Patriots, the Chiefs will have help from Zombo and Orchard.

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“It’s like going into a new school system and meeting new friends,” Orchard said of acclimating to his new team. “Things like that. But the transition is going well. I know a couple faces here, coaches and players, getting along with them and the position group really well.”

Orchard was teammates with offensive linemen Cam Erving and Austin Reiter in Cleveland. He and Erving were draft classmates, both selected by the Browns in 2015. While Erving was a first-rounder, Orchard came off the board in the second.

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Orchard spent three seasons in Cleveland and started 13 games, including 11 in his rookie season. He was cut after training camp earlier this year and was signed by Buffalo.

In his short stint with the Bills, Orchard recorded four tackles, all four coming in the Sept. 30 loss to Green Bay.

Though Orchard doesn’t have the same familiarity with the defense as Zombo, Reid believes he’ll catch up quickly because he played for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Nate had a real good college career, played for a real good friend of mine at Utah, and so he knows the system and is familiar with us so he would fit in that way,” Reid said Wednesday. “And then he’s a good player. Very hard worker, high-effort guy. And smart. Happy to have him on board.”

Orchard was hesitant to say if he expected to get on the field right away. But given the dire situation in the Chiefs’ pass rush, he could be out there sooner rather than later.

“I’m just in the playbook,” Orchard said. “Day by day, but with the injuries, they need my help and I want to be out there the best I can.”

Brooke Pryor

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

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