The play looked innocuous enough on television, as Reggie Ragland sprinted into the screen and hauled down New York Giants tight end Jerrell Adams over the middle for a modest 6-yard gain.
But for Ragland, the Chiefs’ second-year inside linebacker, it meant so much more.
For Ragland –– who had to diagnose the play, sprint toward Adams and haul him down in space with a host of green grass in front of him –– it was an indication that he was close to returning to form following a season-ending knee injury last August.
“One of the biggest plays in the game there,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He almost was getting ready to come out the back end of the defense and Reggie was really kind of the last guy left and he made the tackle.”
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Ragland, who finished the game with a team-high nine tackles, also logged the most snaps –– 47 –– of his two-year NFL career. Both are indications that he’s back up to speed following the injury.
“I probably would have been a step behind –– I ain’t gonna lie to you,” Ragland said, when asked if he could have made that play two months ago.
Ragland’s performance Sunday –– when he looked quick, decisive and packed a punch as a hitter –– was exactly what Chiefs general manager Brett Veach envisioned when he acquired Ragland from the Buffalo Bills in September for a future fourth-round draft pick.
The Bills had taken Ragland, a 6-foot-2, 258-pounder, in the second round of last year’s draft, taken in by his football character and run-thumping ability. His rookie year was wiped out by a torn ACL, however, and an offseason switch to a 4-3 defense made him expendable in Buffalo’s mind.
Veach saw good value in Ragland, however, and pulled the trigger on a deal, banking he’d be a better fit in the Chiefs’ 3-4 scheme and back to his old ways if given time to work back in slowly following the injury.
Ragland was initially in shock about the trade, mainly because he’d wanted things to work in Buffalo, but after talking to his parents and Veach, he became excited about the opportunity to go to a team that believed in him.
“Not gonna lie, I was upset at first,” Ragland said. “(But) the first thing Veach said when we got here was, ‘We’ve got nothing but time. We want you to get back right. We’re going to take our time with you and when you’re ready, we’re going to put you out there on the field.’ I appreciate that a lot.”
Ragland was inactive for the Chiefs’ first two games, and he did not play against the Chargers in week 3. But he logged 21 snaps against Washington in week 4, and has been a part-time contributor ever since, earning more work as he goes.
He attributes this to the Chiefs’ patience at bringing him back.
“The little pains I had in my knee after practice were gone after a couple of weeks,” Ragland said. “We finished the later stages of my rehab and got my quad, my glutes, everything back to firing, and once they got back to firing, everything was great. I feel real good.”
That much showed on Sunday, despite the Chiefs’ 12-9 loss to the Giants, when he played his highest-graded game of the season.
“I thought he played good, I think he’s just going to keep getting better,” Sutton said. “I mean, this is his first real extended time playing and practicing, so hopefully he’ll continue to grow. I think he’s feeling more comfortable in the system. I think he’s done a really nice job.”
Ragland says he’s starting to see things faster and get the burst back that made him the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player of the year in 2015 for national champion Alabama.
“I’m starting to feel like myself,” Ragland said. “I’ve just got to keep building off that, keep watching film.”
Ragland will have an opportunity to show off his progress Sunday, when the Chiefs, 6-4, host his old team, the Bills, 5-5, at noon at Arrowhead Stadium.
But Ragland, who scouts have long dubbed a “team” guy, is too unselfish to make this game about him, though he did admit –– with a grin –– he is a prideful guy.
“To me, it’s just another game,” Ragland said. “I’m very prideful, but at the end of the day, I can’t let my pride get in the way of what we’ve got going on. It is what it is. I’m not going to mess it up.”