Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton settling in nicely with new ‘green dot’ role

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·4 min read
Jill Toyoshiba/jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com
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Chiefs second-year linebacker Nick Bolton has a new position, new responsibilities as the “green dot” on defense, and he’s even sporting a new number.

No problem, though, as far as Bolton is concerned and he believes there’s still room for improvement.

“I definitely feel like I’m trending in the right direction,” Bolton said. “A long way to go. It’s a different position going into this year, so playing the Mike position — I used to be on the outside — so trying to get the spacing of that part.

“Kind of getting better at it, but I still got a long way to go.”

While Bolton believes he will only grow, he fills large shoes as a defensive leader in the wake of the Chiefs parting ways with Anthony Hitchens.

But the Chiefs signaled their confidence in the 22-year-old Bolton, who moves from weakside linebacker to the middle position, by assigning him the “green dot” helmet. He is now the player responsible for receiving defensive calls from the sideline and relaying them to his teammates on the field, and ensuring they are aligned properly.

“He’s grown from a mental standpoint, he’s grown from a communications standpoint, he’s grown from a leadership standpoint,” Chiefs linebackers coach Brenden Daly said. “It’s been really fun to watch and impressive.

“It’s pretty amazing the amount that he’s handling at such a young age. There are times I have to look — he’s only in his second year. That’s been fun to see.”

Bolton, who changed jersey numbers from 54 to 32, showed during his rookie season that he can be an impact player.

The Chiefs used one of two second-round picks on Bolton in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he exceeded expectations with a strong campaign. The former Missouri Tiger appeared in 16 games with 12 starts last season, totaling a team-high 112 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and three quarterback hits.

Bolton was also named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for October 2021 after he averaged 8.6 tackles per game during the month.

“I was very impressed with Nick a year ago and what he was able to do, particularly from a mental standpoint,” Daly said. “He’s one of the people that the more you’re around them, the more you become impressed with him.”

Bolton did his part to stand out on the field last season and he’s carried it into the current organized team activities (OTAs), where he made two notable plays against the pass during Thursday’s 11-on-11 drills.

On the first play, Bolton dropped back in coverage and located tight end Travis Kelce, who ran a route between Bolton and safety Justin Reid. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes attempted to fit the pass in the tight window, but Bolton jumped the route, got his hands on the ball and tipped it in the air, then secured the loose ball for an interception.

In another team drill, Bolton once again showed recognition in pass defense by knocking away a short pass intended for wide receiver Omar Bayless, who initially appeared to break open across the middle of the field.

Not bad at all for a linebacker whose biggest knock coming out of college fell on his ability to defend against the pass. And Chiefs head coach Andy Reid likes what he’s seen so far from Bolton during the offseason workouts.

“That’s where you see linebackers make a little jump from their first year into their second and third year,” Reid said. “They get all these reps with the pass game, and I think that’ll help him down the road rounding off his game. And he’s attacking it like crazy right now. He’s really put a lot of effort into that.”

With next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp, followed by training camp and three preseason games in the coming months, Bolton will have opportunities to solidify his overall game before the start of the 2022 regular season in September.

But how does he top an incredible rookie campaign going into his second season?

Bolton can accomplish it with a personal goal of being the sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker the Chiefs need within the scheme by using his natural instincts to make plays.

“The big picture thing is just vision, seeing the field better,” Bolton said. “Coming into the first year, everything was moving kind of fast, but as the season progressed, everything kind of slowed down a little bit.

“And so this season, just opening up my vision, be able to see more things on the field at one time. I kind of have to play a little bit faster, and so that’s kind of what I’m aiming toward.”