Heartland Health Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

Posted Jul 25, 2012

Three questions surrounding the Chiefs cornerbacks heading into training camp

1) How will Brandon Flowers fare without Brandon Carr?

The next start Brandon Flowers makes at cornerback will be his 60th. It'll also be the first one he makes without Brandon Carr on the other side of the formation. 

Carr inked a five-year, $50 million free agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys last March. So Flowers, who signed a long term extension with the Chiefs at the beginning of the 2011 season, will take the field against the Atlanta Falcons in Week One without his longtime friend and fellow corner from the 2008 draft class.

Admittedly, it took a while for Flowers to accept his new role as the only veteran Chiefs cornerback.

“Being here as a rookie and playing there, you kind of experience that early so you understand that it’s a business right now," said Flowers during Chiefs OTAs. "But you just need to keep going with different guys back there, different personalities."

Flowers will have to adjust to those new personalities for the first time in his career. For four years, he was able to bounce ideas and adjustments off of Carr. And in doing that, the two forged an on-field chemistry that few cornerback tandems ever develop. 

Chiefs fans can take solace in the fact that despite his talents, Carr was always the second cornerback in Kansas City. But fans will also remember the first two games of last season, where Flowers allowed five passing touchdowns and clearly wasn’t playing like a No. 1 corner.

He turned his season around from that point on, though. Flowers allowed only 53.5% of his covers to come down with receptions, which was good for fifth in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. He'll also have a full training camp under his belt to prevent another slow start, a luxury he didn't have last season.

Flowers is a highly-regarded No. 1 option at cornerback. And this season, he'll have to prove that all over again - this time, without Brandon Carr.

2) What about the other side?

For so long, Stanford Routt had been used to seeing his No. 26 in Silver and Black. Yet here he was in Kansas City, trying on his red Chiefs practice jersey for the first time and grinning from ear to ear.

"I remember the first week, I was just getting used to the red covers," the former Raiders cornerback said with a smile. "But now, it's syncing in."

If Routt can sync up with Brandon Flowers and the other Chiefs defensive backs, he won't be the only one smiling. The Chiefs are relying on Routt to reprise his role as the other starting cornerback - one he perfected in Oakland playing with Nmandi Asomugha - and fill the spot that Brandon Carr left behind for Dallas.

Routt steps into Carr's spot in the starting lineup as a veteran who has familiarity with the offenses of the AFC West. But before he arrived at Chiefs OTAs and minicamp, Routt had never met Flowers or the rest of his new defensive teammates. 

It took time for new friendships to grow, said Routt. 

"I’m just walking around saying, ‘Hi, I’m Stanford,’" Routt remembered about his first week in Kansas City. "(I was always) introducing myself to people and asking people, ‘Where’s this room and where’s that room?’ Everybody’s been real helpful and it’s helping my transition a whole lot."

Developing a relationship with Flowers will help determine how successful Routt's transition will be. 

3) Who is the answer at nickel cornerback?

Jalil Brown caught the eye of Romeo Crennel at the wrong time. 

The Chiefs were eliminated from playoff contention in a Week 16 loss to the Raiders, but on tape, Brown stood out. He saved a touchdown on a kickoff return, shined as a blocker on kickoff coverage, and downed two punts inside the 10-yard line. 

That kind of play normally merits a playing-time reward from Crennel, but with Denver's rushing attack coming up, the head coach couldn't justify using a sub-package defense. 

“If an opportunity arose, then he might be able to get some playing time, but going into this game, knowing what we have to face offensively, our defense has to face a running quarterback," said Crennel of the Chiefs' Week 17 game last season. 

An opportunity to play on defense didn't come for Brown back then, but with a pick-six and a few pass breakups in OTAs, Brown picked up where he left off last season--in Crennel's good graces.

He'll face some tough competition in training camp for a sub-package spot. Javier Arenas has experience as a reserve cornerback, and fifth-rounder DeQuan Menzie had the speed and ball skills to man Arenas' old position at Alabama. 

Travis Daniels had a pick-six in OTAs as well, where he shifted to safety to fill the void of rehabbing starters Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis. However, he also has seven years of experience as an NFL corner. 

Brown, Daniels, or whomever seized that third spot will see the field early and often. The Chiefs lined up with five or more defensive backs for more than half of the defensive snaps last season. 

Gaudy passing trends in the NFL and the introduction of Peyton Manning in the AFC West mix should only increase that percentage, meaning the third cornerback needs to be as prepared as a starting cornerback is.

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