One of the prevailing storylines of Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie minicamp a month ago was that the team felt the need to slow down rookie first-round defensive end George Karlaftis.
Halfway in jest, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid revealed the 21-year-old had one speed: 100 miles an hour — and that extended to walkthroughs. Understanding the tempo of the exercises was simply part of Karlaftis adjusting to the pro game.
Following the team’s first of three mandatory workouts on Tuesday, Karlaftis revealed he got a head start on becoming a pro by losing 10 to 15 pounds during his pre-draft process. It can be estimated that Karlaftis, who was listed at 275 pounds at Purdue, is likely in the 260-265-pound range.
“I think I’ve grown a lot, changed my body a little bit during the pre-draft process, and that’s unlocked different things I can do on the field,” described Karlaftis, who added he worked on his mobility and speed. “So just mixing and molding myself into the pass rusher I want to be and (defensive line) coach [Joe] Cullen sees in me.”
But it wasn’t just Karlaftis’ power approach and relentlessness that drew him to the Chiefs. In early June, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo explained that it was a pre-draft video call that made him really stand out.
“It was the Zoom meeting that we had,” said Spagnuolo. “There was something about him that I said, ‘Boy, if we could get this kind of person in here, I think it would be an extra bonus in addition to the fact that he was a really good football player.'”
On Tuesday, Karlaftis reflected on his end of the Zoom.
“I remember that it went really well, actually,” recalled Karlaftis, who said the staff tested his football IQ. “They had a bunch of people from the staff. Coach Terry (Bradden), the assistant. Coach Cullen — the D-line coach. Everybody was on it. Coach Spags was on it. It was a great meeting. It was pretty long, actually. Watched a lot of film, talked a lot of football, and it just went great. I feel like we had a great connection.”
Cullen, especially, took a liking to Karlaftis.
“When we first started to really dig in and dive into what George was all about, there’s been a lot of great guys that have come out of Purdue,” started Cullen. “The motor just kept showing up the more we all watched him, and when thankfully, he fell to that spot, if that’s what you want to say, where we were picking: 30th. When we decided to take him, it was a no-brainer. And then it’s only even been better.
“Coach (Reid) talked about slowing him down. He’s a throwback. He’s an old-school, goes hard every single play he’s on the field, he wants to get better in everything he does, and I’m just really excited that we have him here.”
As the Chiefs have slowed Karlaftis down, Cullen is tasked with making sure Karlaftis continues to progress at his new pace. As a first-round pick, Karlaftis is expected to make an immediate impact as a starting defensive end.
“Coach Cullen preaches it every day in practice — you just work on your skills; you work on your craft and maybe not go full into the lineman,” said Karlaftis. “Go according to the tempo, basically, but you could always work on things like your get-off and your fundamentals… so to really focus on that — consciously focusing on the fundamentals.”
Working next to a three-time second-team All-Pro in Chris Jones helps, too. Tuesday’s mandatory practice marked the first on-field work in which Karlaftis could work alongside Jones.
Karlaftis said Jones reached out to him shortly after he was drafted.
“Chris is obviously one of the best players in the league and he’s just a presence on the field and off the field,” he said. “He has this aura about him, if you will. And I’m just trying to learn from him. Playing next to him is just so great because he does so many great things on the field, and you can work off of him, so it’s been really good.”
For Karlaftis right now, it is all about fundamentals, technique and tempered relentlessness. Oh, and the golden rule of offseason work.
“I’ll never come close, in practice… to Patrick Mahomes,” he laughed.