Chiefs rookie corner Charvarius Ward had huge learning curve on big stage

Andy Reid says Seahawks played better football in Chiefs loss

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the Seattle Seahawks played better football in a 38-31 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, December 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Field.
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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the Seattle Seahawks played better football in a 38-31 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, December 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Field.

Charvarius Ward came to the Chiefs as a relative unknown, a semi-anonymous undrafted free-agent defensive back acquired at the end of the preseason in a trade that sent offensive lineman Parker Ehinger to the Dallas Cowboys. At least a special teams contributor, and perhaps a potential piece of the Chiefs’ defense of the future.

On Sunday night in Seattle, the future became the present when Ward started and played all but one defensive snap in a loss to the Seahawks. The Chiefs were playing for an AFC West division title and the top seed in the conference.

“It’s always been my dream to play in the NFL, to be a starter,” Ward said after the game. “But I didn’t play good enough. I have to get better.”

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On the Seahawks’ late fourth-quarter touchdown drive that provided the margin of victory, Ward’s debut took on a decidedly melancholy tone. Ward was locked in man-to-man coverage when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed a 45-yard pass to Tyler Lockett on second-and-12. Ward also had coverage when Wilson connected on a 29-yard toss to Doug Baldwin just shy of the goal line.

A 6-foot-1, 198-pound Middle Tennessee State product, Ward had played exclusively on special teams in nine of the 11 games in which he’d appeared before Sunday night. But Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to insert Ward into the lineup in place of veteran Orlando Scandrick.

“I got here late after the four preseason games,” Ward said. “I just had to catch-up with the playbook. I’ve been learning the playbook all season. The playbook is kind of difficult. That’s really why I haven’t been playing. But I know it now, so I’m out there. I’ve just got to get better, help this team win.”

While Ward expected to be in the lineup against the Seahawks, his playing time increased significantly because starting cornerback Kendall Fuller was unable to play after having had surgery on his thumb the day after the Chiefs’ loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Fuller typically starts at cornerback but slides over to play the nickelback position. Ward would’ve have played the outside cornerback position when Fuller played nickel. Instead, Fuller was ruled out shortly before Sunday’s game, which meant Ward would play almost every down. Rookie Tremon Smith took over the starting nickel spot for the game.

“Ward, I think it was just a matter of playing a little bit,” Reid said on Monday. “He was in pretty good position on most of the throws. He can learn from that, just exactly how you go up and through a guy at the end of the route and get the ball out. Then he had a couple good plays. I liked what I saw there with Ward.”

Neither Ward nor Reid provided an indication of whether the Chiefs would stick with the lineup change next week in their regular-season finale at home against Oakland. Scandrick remained active and was on the sideline in uniform on Sunday night.

“I think I played decent, but not good enough,” Ward said. “It was my first game, my debut at cornerback on defense. I was kind of nervous, but you can’t be nervous in the NFL. Those guys have been to a couple of Super Bowls. They’re experienced, and I’m kind of inexperienced. I’ve just got to grow within this next week, be ready for the Raiders when they call my number again.”

Raiders game flexed: Sunday’s regular-season finale at Arrowhead Stadium against the Oakland Raiders has been flexed to 3:25 p.m. by the NFL. The game will be played at the same time the Chargers are playing the Broncos in Denver. The AFC’s top seed is a battle between the Chiefs and Chargers ... unless both lose Sunday, in which case ... well, you can read more about the playoff scenarios affecting the Chiefs here.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.