Bolton got plenty of experience during his rookie season, finishing with a team-high 112 tackles and 11 tackles for loss while adding an 86-yard fumble recovery touchdown to his highlight reel. He just became the ninth rookie since 2000 to eclipse 110-plus tackles and 10-plus TFLs, and the first to do so since the Colts LB Darius Leonard in 2018.
“I think the more he understands and the more he does it, it becomes even more friendly to his instincts,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “You saw him in the run game to be really effective [last year], and now he is able to work on the passing game. That ‘s what these camps are. That’s where you see linebackers make a little jump from their first year into their second and third year. They get all these reps with the pass game, and I think that’ll help him down the road rounding off his game. He’s attacking it like crazy right now. He really put a lot of effort into that. “
Chiefs LBs coach Brendan Daly is seeing a growth from Bolton’s mental aspects of the game, which factors into the trust the team has bestowed on the 22-year-old.
“I was very impressed with Nick a year ago, especially from a mental standpoint,” said Daly. “He’s one of those people that you’re more impressed with him, the more you become with him. He’s grown from a mental standpoint, he’s grown from a communication standpoint and he’s grown from a leadership standpoint. It’s been really fun to watch. It is amazing the amount that he is handling at such a young age. There are times that I have to [remind myself] that he is only in his second year. “
Kansas City’s defense saw a down year in 2021 following back-to-back AFC championship seasons. The unit ranked 26th in the NFL with 368.9 yards allowed per game in the regular season and went on to surrender 28.0 points per game in the playoffs.
Outside the free-agent signing of safety Justin Reid this offseason, the Chiefs will be relaying in youth in 2022. Pass rusher George Karlaftis and cornerback Trent McDuffie are expected to earn significant playing time as rookies, while LB Willie Gay Jr., Safety Juan Thornhill and CB L’Jarius Sneed are poised to become foundational pieces alongside veterans Chris Jones and Frank Clark.
Bolton, who is younger than all but five players on the Chiefs’ current roster, has been ready to lead KC’s defense for many years to come.
“I feel like it’s our time, our young guys, and not just me. Willie (Gay Jr.), Justin Reid, Juan (Thornhill) and the young guys on the defensive line,” Bolton said. “It’s our time to step up and lead as a group. Nobody will replace Hitch or Tyrann Mathieu – those are special guys. There is a reason why they wore Cs, but it does come up to us as a group and get guys. in the best position possible to play. “