D.J. Alexander learns lessons in first NFL start

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — D.J. Alexander lined up against the Tennessee Titans offense last week, and the second-year linebacker told himself to slow down.

Aug. 18, 2015; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (30) prepares to block linebacker D.J. Alexander (57) during a training camp drill at Missouri Western State University. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Aug. 18, 2015; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (30) prepares to block linebacker D.J. Alexander (57) during a training camp drill at Missouri Western State University. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

“You really just have to tell yourself to stay calm and take it just one snap at a time,” Alexander said, “because if you don’t you let it get ahead of yourself and you’re always going to playing catch up.”

The fifth-round pick from Oregon State in the 2015 NFL draft found himself in an unusual position last week. A veteran of all of 16 defensive snaps over his first two seasons, Alexander stepped on to the field in the shoes of veteran Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson.

“It was definitely different,” Alexander said. “A little bit more time than normal. But I liked it. I enjoyed it.”

Alexander normally hits the field for special teams. He lined up for 41 snaps on defense against the Titans, and it presented a whole new experience.

“I didn’t want it to happen and didn’t want it to happen to a guy like Derrick,” Alexander said. “But you have to prepare yourself for the worst at all times and be ready.”

The game turned into a bumpy performance for Alexander. The Chiefs fell 19-17 to the Titans and surrendered 148 yards rushing.

He said he learned much from the Titans game he hopes to apply Christmas night against the Denver Broncos.

“There’s a lot of things — everything really,” Alexander said. “That being my first game, obviously there’s going to be a lot of mistakes and. You really have to study yourself and see how you play and see how other teams are seeing how you play.”

Alexander said the defensive playing proved valuable, providing learning opportunities unavailable in the film room or on the practice field.

“When those punches are swing in practice, it’s a controlled environment,” he said. “In a game, you never know. You can film study and anticipate what’s going to happen, but until you’re in actually in the game and see the situations, you don’t know for sure.”

How much more playing time Alexander sees at linebacker remains to be seen. The Chiefs play a chameleon-like defense, adapating to their opponent with nickle and dime packages favoring safeties and corners. The team also designated Justin March-Lillard for return from injured reserve. He could return for the season finale against San Diego, pushing Alexander back to the bench.

But The young linebacker still has memories from his first NFL start, and another accolade as well. He learned this week the NFL named him the first alternate behind New England’s Matthew Slater as the AFC Pro Bowl special teams player.

Special teams work often goes unsung, so Alexander appreciates the recognition.

“It’s a great feeling,” Alexander said. “Knowing you have that support from your fellow teammates, other teams and the fans and coaches. I take that with a lot of respect from those guys and thank them.”

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.


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