KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jordan Willis finds himself No. 2 on the depth chart at left defensive end for the Cincinnati Bengals, who took on the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL preseason opener for both teams last Saturday night.
Whether it will translate into a starting berth at some juncture this season remains unclear for Willis, who was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at Kansas State in 2016.
Willis, a behemoth 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, is embarking on his third season with the Bengals. Cincinnati selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft with the 73rd overall pick.
Adding to the uncertainty about playing time is the fact that the Bengals also have a new coaching staff, led by head coach Zac Taylor.
And if Taylor’s name sounds familiar, it’s because the 36-year-old Norman, Oklahoma, native played quarterback for Nebraska in the Big 12 Conference for two seasons (2005 and 2006).
Prior to that, Taylor was an All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference quarterback for two years at Butler County Community College (2003 and 2004).
Willis is adjusting to the change in leadership after playing under Marvin Lewis the past two seasons.
“I think things have been going good,” Willis said after the Bengals’ 38-17 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. “I felt like I played OK, and I feel like I have made some improvement in certain parts of my game.
“I felt like I made a couple plays, and there were a couple things that I need to address in practice. It was kind of a hard game because (the Chiefs) were trying to get the ball to the edge, and that was quick.”
Notorious for their quick-hitting offense, the Chiefs, led by the reigning NFL Player of the Year in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, created havoc for Cincinnati after the Bengals took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for a 7-0 lead. In his abbreviated performance, Mahomes completed all four of his passes for 66 yards. Mahomes also had a first-down scramble, which set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Carlos Hyde to tie the game at 7.
After that touchdown, Cincinnati didn’t much pressure with their pass rush the rest of the way against Kansas City’s other quarterbacks.
“There were not like a ton of pass-rush opportunities,”Wills said. “Overall, it was a solid day.”
A native of Kansas City, Willis prepped at Rockhurst High School before attending Kansas State, where he compiled 88 tackles and 21 sacks during his junior and senior seasons.
“It’s fun to come back and play in a stadium close to where you grew up,” Willis said. “So it’s a fun trip, so to speak.”
Willis, a first-team All-Big 12 selection by the Associated Press his senior season at K-State, had 52 tackles and 11.5 sacks as the Big 12’s most dominant defender.
Willis, who had one tackle against the Chiefs on Saturday, accumulated 20 tackles last season for the Bengals, including 15 solo stops and one sack. The sacks don’t come as regularly as they did in college for Willis.
“You have to kind of like learn angles and takeoffs,” Willis said. “There are certain things you have to learn to bring to your game to help improve your rush.
“I think I am making some strides, based off some things I did in the offseason. I’ve done some good things in practices. I just need to translate it over to the regular season.