Text messages were flying among the Louisiana Tech football coaches and players last Thursday. One of theirs, L'Jarius Sneed, not only pulled a starting assignment in his NFL debut but landed the Chiefs' first interception.
"I was quiet though," Bulldogs secondary coach Jeff Burris said. "I was nervous, watching his first game."
"So gratifying, the whole night," Burris said. "To see him jog out there with the first unit. That was a surreal moment."
Sneed made the most of his opportunity in last Thursday's 34-20 triumph over the Houston Texans with three tackles and two pass breakups besides the pick. He was filling in for Bashaud Breeland, who has three games remaining in his season-opening suspension.
Sneed's presence becomes all the more important this week as the Chiefs prepare for their first road game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Charvarius Ward has missed practice time this week because of a fracture in his hand suffered against the Texans. If Ward can't go, the Chiefs will be down to three listed at cornerback besides Sneed: Rashad Fenton, Antonio Hamilton and rookie Bopete Keyes,
Fenton and Hamilton combined for 70 snaps against the Texans. Keyes was inactive. Sneed wound up taking 55 of 59 defensive snaps and should be in line for as much action Sunday.
The Texans' Deshaun Watson tested the rookie early. Expect the Chargers to do the same.
"My mindset isn't going to change," Sneed said. "I'm just trying to better myself (after) my mistakes from last week."
There couldn't have been many, and there was a signature moment. On the second play of the fourth quarter with the Chiefs holding a 24-7 lead, safety Tyrann Mathieu got enough of Watson to disrupt his throwing motion.
The ball sailed and Sneed didn't miss it. He returned the pick 39 yards - and got at least one postgame text/critique on the run back execution.
"I told him he carried the ball in the wrong hand," Burris said with a laugh. "Always a coach."
Sneed earned his spot with a superb training camp, and knew about the time camp broke that he would start for Breeland. Burris knew whatever Sneed's role, he'd bring a quiet confidence.
"And leadership," Burris said. "He showed that last season."
Sneed, ideally sized for a cornerback at 6 feet 2, 193 pounds with 4.37-second NFL Combine 40-yard dash speed, played that position for three college seasons. As a senior, he filled a need and moved to safety, where Sneed added assignment responsibility.
Working on red zone coverage in practice one day, Burris lined up behind the secondary and started making calls. Sneed turned around and asked if he could position the defensive backs.
"It was like, 'I need to know how to do this, and if I make a mistake I'll learn from it,'" Burris said. "That was proud moment for me.
"As a corner, you wait for the safety to make the call. During the season all the guys on his side knew what they were doing."
Sneed went on a second-team All-Conference USA season, recording three interceptions, including a pick-six, and a team-best 72 tackles. He shared the secondary with corner Amik Robertson, who was selected to some All-America teams.
Defense was a strength of the 10-3 team that beat the University of Miami in the Independence Bowl.
The Louisiana Tech players were taken on successive selections in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, Robertson to the Raiders. The former teammates will face off twice this year.
Without organized team activities, mini-camp or preseason games, newcomers have had to catch on the best they can. Players like Sneed have had to lean on veterans.
"One thing that really helped was Ward and Breeland, when he was here, talking to him and getting him up to speed," Chiefs cornerbacks coach Sam Madison said. "In the meeting room, he's asking the right questions and going out there and applying those things on the field.
"For him to have that game, it was promising for him and the Chiefs as well."
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