Heartland Health Training Camp Preview: Safeties

Posted Jul 26, 2012

Three questions surrounding the Chiefs safeties heading into training camp

1) Can a healthy Eric Berry and a healthy Kendrick Lewis stabilize the back end of the Chiefs defense?

After his offseason surgery, Kendrick Lewis took to the Internet, reassuring Chiefs fans with the same words Eric Berry posted online 16 weeks earlier.

"Minor setback for a major comeback," tweeted the third-year safety following his procedure to fix a torn pectoral muscle suffered after forcing a Tim Tebow fumble in Week 17. 

The comebacks of Berry and Lewis are a major storyline as the Chiefs get set for training camp - and with good reason. In 2011, six different safeties - including Berry and Lewis - made starts for the Chiefs. 

Three of those players- Reshard Langford, Jon McGraw, and Sabby Piscitelli - aren't with the Chiefs this year. The other half of that group? The injured duo of Berry and Lewis, plus Donald Washington.

Fielding a revolving door situation at safety hurt the Chiefs playoff chances in a tight division last season. And if Romeo Crennel's defense is to reach its full potential, the Chiefs have to avoid that turnover this year.

Berry suffered a torn ACL in Week One against the Bills. Lewis suffered his injury tackling Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow in Week 17. But according to Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, the tandem is expected to return to practice in St. Joseph's on Friday. 

“We’re going to have to see when they come in (Thursday) to take their physicals," a cautiously optimistic Pioli told the Kansas City Star. "They’ve been away for a while and they’ll come in to take their physicals and we’ll see how they are. Everything we’ve been led to believe is that the guys are going to be ready."

That's good news for the fans at Missouri Western. And it's even better news for the Chiefs, who could boast one of the more dominant defenses with the return of Berry and Lewis. 

2) Will Abram Elam contribute as the team's reserve option?

The second defense jogged on the field, the first team defense jogged off, and Abram Elam jogged right toward secondary coach Emmitt Thomas.

Elam was plugged directly into the starting lineup during his first practice as a Chiefs player, and needed  all the mental reps he could take to catch up with the rest of the first team. So the newly-signed defensive back watched the second-team safeties right next to Thomas in an attempt to grasp his new coverage duties.

Thomas' advice should've acted as a refresher course for Elam on Romeo Crennel's defense. The seven-year veteran started for Crennel's Cleveland Browns in 2009 and 2010, and proved to be a solid, serviceable contributor. 

He'll slide into that same exact role as the prospective third safety in Kansas City. Last season, the Chiefs learned firsthand that they could use all the safety help they could get, and Elam should provide quality depth behind both Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis. 

Moreover, while Elam is far from an aging veteran, he'll be the oldest defensive back in the Chiefs locker room. Elam's experience as an NFL player could be just what the doctor ordered for a banged-up and inexperienced group coming off a rough 2011 season.

3) Will an increase in playing time during OTAs and minicamp pay off for young Chiefs safeties?

For the first snap of OTA scrimmages, Terrance Parks was the only first-year player out there.

No other rookie player - not even first rounder Dontari Poe - started for the Chiefs on either side of the ball. Drafted or undrafted, every rookie worked with the second team or lower except for Parks, who filled in for his former high school teammate Eric Berry as the starting strong safety. 

Parks knew he was a stopgap option until Berry was healthy enough to claim his job back. But he also knew that the more tape his coaches could gather on him, the better chance the undrafted rookie had of sticking on the final 53-man roster. 

“It’s something that you look forward to yet you have to take it and accept and learn from it," Parks said. "So, the whole process has been a great learning experience.”

Parks and fellow undrafted rookie defensive back Tysyn Hartman received more learning experiences than most rookies during OTAs and minicamp. With both starters out and fellow rookie safety DeQuan Menzie sidelined, the two rookies pounced on the opportunities for snaps. Hartman, a converted quarterback at Kansas State, even had a clutch interception during the two-minute drill of one practice. 

"As an undrafted guy I've got to prove that I belong here, pay attention in meetings and dive into that playbook and learn it as fast as possible and come out here and prove that I can help this football team," Hartman said. "It's been a great experience so far."

The Chiefs need to see more from both players before handing them one a roster spot. But the team will be hard-pressed to cut either player if they can parlay the skills they learned during offseason workouts into a standout camp performance.

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