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Chiefs LB Reggie Ragland on Bills: 'I wish they would have given me a chance'

MIAMI – Reggie Ragland couldn't be happier with how it all worked out.

There he was, sitting on a riser below a sign bearing his name. There also were risers for nine of his Kansas City Chiefs teammates, including Patrick Mahomes, in a large banquet area at the JW Marriott Turnberry.

It's all part of the drill at the Super Bowl, where media from around the world converge to shine a massive spotlight on the participants. That Ragland, wearing his No. 59 jersey with a Super Bowl LIV logo on the front, is among them is a testament to his refusal to give in to the kind of setback that could have derailed his playing career and some good fortune.

"Everything happens for a reason," he told reporters Tuesday as the Chiefs prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. "I'm in a great position now to be successful. I'm at a Super Bowl right now with a great team and a great organization."

In 2016, after the Buffalo Bills made the inside linebacker a second-round draft pick from Alabama, Ragland had his rookie season end before it had a chance to begin. He suffered an injury to his left knee during a training camp drill at St. John Fisher College. Twenty-five days later, he was placed on the season-ending injured-reserve list with a torn ACL.

A year later, after Sean McDermott replaced Rex Ryan as the Bills' head coach and Brandon Beane took over for Doug Whaley as general manager, Ragland entered training camp as the primary challenger to Preston Brown to start at middle linebacker. Shortly thereafter, Ragland was demoted to third string. By the end of camp, the Bills shipped him to Kansas City in exchange for a 2019 fourth-round pick they used, along with their own fourth, to acquire the additional third-round choice used for tight end Dawson Knox.

Ragland has never accepted the conventional wisdom that, having been drafted for Ryan's 3-4 defensive scheme, he was not a proper fit for the 4-3 alignment used by McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

"No, I'm a football player," Ragland said. "Football is football. You're just lining up, knowing your gaps and everything like that. Sometimes I feel (the Bills) didn't even give me a chance to show my talent. But when you come in as a new regime, you want your guys out there playing. And I fully understand that.

"But I wish they would have given me a chance to show that I really can play and I really could have helped their defense if they gave me time. But they didn't give me the time and they traded me here. I know, my first five weeks here, they gave me the time to rehab and get back even stronger on my knee. Actually, I've been trying to make due on everything that (Chiefs GM) Brett Veach and Coach (Andy) Reid have done for me and I'm very thankful for those two to come get me out of Buffalo and I'm here playing for the Chiefs."

Ragland also regrets that he never had a chance to play for Ryan.

"Rex was one of my favorite people," he said.

After undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, Ragland did rehabilitation in Western New York and his native Alabama. Most of his guidance came from Steve Wilk, a noted physical therapist based in Birmingham.

"He just kept telling me, 'The first 12 weeks your knee is going to be unstable because it's still new, but after the 12 weeks, your knee is going to be fine,' " Ragland said. "It's really just everything around it I had to get back. I've got big legs, so I had to work a little harder to get my muscle back. And he told me, once I get everything back, just keep working on it and everything's going to be fine. I trusted him in that."

Missing his rookie season put a strain on Ragland emotionally. He knew Ryan and Whaley had high expectations for the impact he would have immediately. Whaley traded the Bills' second-round pick in 2016 (49th overall), their fourth-round choice in '16 (117th) and their fourth-rounder in 2017 to the Chicago Bears for the second-round selection (41st overall) to land Ragland.

Ragland found the best way to cope with not playing was to do the best he could to avoid football altogether.

"To be honest, I tried to stay away from the game as much as possible," he said. "But I always watch the games, because those are my guys and I started to build a bond with them in (2016) OTAs and the beginning part of camp before I got hurt, so, of course, I watched them. But there was a particular game where (the opponent) ran for like 200 yards on us in Buffalo. I was just telling myself, 'Man, I know I could have helped in some form or way with that.'

"But everything happens for a reason, so all I could do is keep getting better in my rehab and it really helped me push through it. I didn't know if I was going to get traded or not, so I just knew I had to keep working hard and come back the next year and be ready."

Ragland was inactive for his first three games with the Chiefs. His first career start came against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 2, 2017, and he remained a starting inside linebacker in the 3-4 base scheme of Bob Sutton. Ragland started 10 of the 12 games in which he played.

He started 15 of 16 games in 2018, finishing second on the team with 86 combined tackles, a half-sack and an interception.

Sutton was fired after the season and replaced by Steve Spagnuolo, who used a 4-3 base scheme. Ragland played in 14 games during the regular season and started seven, with the last start coming in a win against Denver in mid-December. He was a backup for each of the Chiefs' playoff victories against the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.

Ragland has a great deal of respect for the 49ers' running game, which dominated the Green Bay Packers' defense in the NFC championship game. He sees the biggest key to keep the Chiefs' D from suffering the same fate is to prevent the Niners' exceptionally speedy backs, led by Raheem Mostert, from getting outside.

"These guys have all the speed in the world to bounce and outrun," Ragland said. "We've got to do a great job of setting the edge. The guys setting the edge have got to make sure they have good eyes and stay on the outside and don't be peeking inside. Because if you peek a little bit and try to come inside, the guy's got great enough speed at the last second to bounce and outrun your edge.

"So we've got to do a great job of just setting the edge and everybody getting lined up and just doing their job, first and foremost."

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