Stronger, leaner Rakeem Nunez-Roches hopes to make pass-rush impact for Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches at the Kansas City Chiefs training camp Monday in St. Joseph.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches at the Kansas City Chiefs training camp Monday in St. Joseph.

After a particularly impressive showing in the offensive line vs. defensive line pass rush drills on Aug. 1 — the Chiefs’ first day in pads — second-year defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches thought he’d done pretty well.

He had showcased his improved power, buoyed by an offseason of heavy lifting, all while maintaining his trademark quickness in a handful of clear victories against opposing linemen.

But it was not until later that day — after a conversation with a Chiefs’ scout whose name he still doesn’t know — when he truly allowed himself to feel good, if only for a moment, about what he’d done.

“We were at the cafe and he came beside me and he was like ‘You did a hell of a job today — you continue that,’ ” Nunez-Roches said. “ ‘That’s what I like about you.’ And he walked off. I felt touched — my whole day was made.

No wonder. Nunez-Roches, the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick in 2015, was kept on the active roster last season, though he played little, recording just four tackles. He is grateful for the opportunity to learn and get stronger for a year, and wants to repay the team for their faith.

“That meant a lot to me — that’s why I took this offseason so seriously,” Nunez-Roches said. “They could have looked at another direction and tried to do something differently, but they gave me a chance. And I wanted to show them thank you.”

He’s tried to do it through action. The 6-foot-2 Nunez-Roches says he now weighs 299 pounds after reporting to camp a year ago at 304 pounds, but more importantly, notes he’s gone from 19 percent body fat to 13.6 percent while adding a ton of strength, particularly in his upper body

“I’m warming up 335, 340 (pounds),” Nunez-Roches said of his bench press. “It’s crazy. Last year I was like at 230 — 275 was my max. I was struggling.”

Nunez-Roches, who spent the entire offseason working out in Kansas City, credits strength coach Barry Rubin for this. He also also drew inspiration from fullback Anthony Sherman and defensive end Mike DeVito, who he witnessed maintaining their strength throughout the season by lifting heavy weights — powerlifting — all year long, even during the season.

“Those are the guys that kept performing,” said Nunez-Roches, who says he asked DeVito directly for the key to maintaining strength. “Once I saw that, I knew what I needed to do. And I just took that into my plan.”

Nunez-Roches says he figured this out at the end of November, which is when he started struggling with his weight and losing muscle mass because he wasn’t lifting.

The increased upper body has helped with his pass-rush arsenal — he has three moves he feels good about right now.

“That’s definitely what I harped on,” said Nunez-Roches, who has rotated in on the second-team defensive line. “A lot of us can play the run. But here, we need to get the ball back to our offense. And that comes with a pass rush. That comes on third down. And that’s what you see. I wasn’t like that last year.”

His performances in one-on-one pass rush drills in camp — including the one that led to praise from the scout — offer proof of that.

“One thing I will say is it was very assuring,” Nunez-Roches said. “Everything that I did in the offseason came to pass. It worked.”