On July 29th, 80 men will report to training camp in St. Joseph, Missouri with one goal in mind – to wear the Kansas City Chiefs logo on their helmets when The New Arrowhead Stadium hosts its first-ever Monday Night Football Game on September 13th. Chiefs fans are already familiar with the majority of players who will be competing for roster spots this summer, but the crop of undrafted free agents often enter camp anonymous to the fan base.
Starting on June 29th and ending on July 14th, we’ll meet each of the Chiefs undrafted players for conversation. These are members of the Chiefs roster that can’t be ignored. History tells us that several of these men will end up on Kansas City’s Opening Day 53-man squad.
Today’s Rookie Focus – DL
Quick Intro – Fitzgerald played in 12 games during one season at Kansas State, recording 40 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, one INT, seven passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. He began his collegiate career at Virginia, starting a total of 25 games as a redshirt freshman and sophomore for the Cavaliers.
JL: What are your impressions of being a pro football player? Is it everything that you’ve thought it would be? Any surprises?
JF: It’s everything that I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve been dreaming of this opportunity ever since I can remember from begin a little kid. I’ve come in here and have just been trying to work hard to earn a spot on this team to continue the dream.
JL: I think what’s interesting about your background is having received significant playing time at Virginia, before ending your career at Kansas State. To do that, you had to burn a year in 2008 due to NCAA transfer rules. Talk about that year, because the junior season is a vital year in preparing for this level.
JF: It was pretty tough having to sit out, with me being such a competitor. I was just dying to get out there to help my teammates out in any way possible. But I also felt like it helped me, because I was able to see the game from a coaching aspect of things. I got to sit back and really help out my other teammates. I think that it helped me to understand the game that much more. Like I said, it was hard doing it, but I think that it helped me mentally in the long run.
JL: Would you go into those film sessions and envision yourself in those game situations even though you were only allowed to be a practice player?
JF: I was going through it just as if I was on the field. I went through every meeting and watched my position in depth. I was looking at it as if at any minute I could go into the game. I wanted to be ready from the second the 2008 season ended. That was my mindset going into it as far as the film study. I’d also watch the position and our opponents, trying to give pointers to my teammates from anything that I saw. It was about helping the team achieve better success on the field.
JL: Did you think that you were able to hit the ground running in 2009? You’re team put together a season much better than most expected.
JF: Most definitely. I knew that it was my last shot and that I didn’t have any time to waste. I just wanted to go out there and do the best that I could. I had a bit of a slow start, but things got better as we went on throughout the year. I just tried to get better with every game as the season went on, working with our coaching staff and I thought that they really helped me out in doing that.
JL: Going back to your time at Virginia, you and T
JF: Oh yeah, most definitely. As soon as I got the call at the end of the draft, Branden was one of the first guys that I called. I told him that I was coming out here and he was happy for me. We had a really good relationship at Virginia. We always hung out together with the same group of guys and I kept in contact with him when I came out to play at Kansas State. He just took me under his wing and introduced me to guys. He’s like my big brother out here.
JL: Another guy you were able to work with a bit in the East/West Shrine Game was Romeo Crennel. Even though you were on the West squad and he coached the East, did you get to have any conversations with him?
JF: We were only able to have a little bit of interaction that week, but from that I could tell that he was a good man and that impression still holds true today. He’s really helped us out and you can tell that he really wants us to develop into a great defense.
JL: Do they set aside any Q&A sessions for the players and coaches that are on opposite teams?
JF: During dinner, the East and West teams would eat together, so a few conversations would occur here and there. Then, at the end, you have a banquet and that’s where I spoke with Coach Crennel for a little bit. Other than that, it was all about being outside and playing football.
JL: What will make you a good professional player?
JF: I feel like just the mental aspect of things. I am very situationally aware of things like down and distance situations. Once I get into the film room and know how the other team operates and their tendencies, I feel like it gives me an advantage so I can anticipate what’s about to happen. Also, I feel like I can run very well and do a good job of continuously getting after the passer.