Safety is a position of opportunity during Chiefs OTAs

Posted May 22, 2012

Undrafted rookie Terrance Parks (No. 31) receives rare opportunity in opening practice

An unlikely rookie ran with the first-team defense during Monday’s opening session of OTAs at the Chiefs Training Facility.

Terrance Parks, an undrafted rookie out of Florida State, lined up as a starting safety opposite Matt Cassel and the first-team offense for the opening series of team snaps.

The rest of Kansas City’s rookies, including first-round draft pick Dontari Poe, worked with reserve units during their initial practice with the team’s veterans. Beginning rookies in the reserve ranks is the preference of head coach Romeo Crennel.

Though Parks’ inclusion in the starting unit was one of necessity, it provided him with a platform few undrafted players receive.

“When you get an opportunity like that you have to take advantage of it,” Parks said following Monday’s practice. “The terminology is different and it can be complex trying to learn a new defense, but it was a great opportunity.”

The Chiefs defensive backfield will carry an unfamiliar look throughout OTAs with starters Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis both resting injuries.

Berry continues to recover from a left knee injury suffered in last year’s season opener and Lewis is rehabbing a torn pectoral that occurred while forcing a Tim Tebow fumble in the 2011 season finale at Denver.

Fifth-round draft pick De’Quan Menzie was also held out of Monday’s opening OTA practice after his left hamstring flared up 10 days ago during rookie minicamp.

Berry and Lewis are expected to be ready by training camp and Menzie is likely to find his way into the rotation at some point during OTAs.

With no clear-cut option serving as the team’s third safety, the door is open for a number of young reserves to stake their claim while working with the first-team defense.

Parks was the first to get the call, fresh out of rookie minicamp.

“Of course it’s different, but I’m ready for that type of thing,” Parks said. “If they throw me out there, I’m going to do the best that I can and I’m up for the challenge.”

“They looked real good, but maybe a little jittery at times,” Lewis chimed in regarding the rookies. “Those guys are doing a great job with the learning process. You take it one step at a time and you get better from there.”

Part of the challenge for rookies includes communicating coverage calls and aligning correctly behind Pro Bowlers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali. Parks often sought Berry’s advice when he headed to the sideline.

“I have to because, of course, they know what they’re doing,” Parks said. “Berry, Lewis and the entire secondary were in my ear the whole time. They have really been helping out all of us rookies and we really appreciate it.”

Berry and Parks know each other well. The two were high school teammates and played in the same secondary for three seasons at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Georgia.

“That’s my good friend, so of course it makes me comfortable out there,” Parks said of teaming up with Berry once again. “Just to have him on the sidelines and in my ear helps things slow down a little bit more.”

Lining up beside Parks was a familiar veteran, but one who is also new to the safety position.

Travis Daniels came to Kansas City boasting versatility as a cornerback and safety in 2009, but has played in 41 games at cornerback in his three seasons with the Chiefs.

Running with the second-team behind Daniels and Parks was Donald Washington and Kyle McCarthy.

Washington shifted from cornerback to safety in 2010 and has made five starts at the position over the past two years. He was one of four reserves to make a start last season following Berry’s injury, but is the only member of that group still under contract with the team.

 “I was in an enormous amount of pain last season, but I had to suck it up because we lost Eric and it was me returning as a starter,” said Lewis, who battled a nagging shoulder injury in addition to playing with a torn pectoral muscle while making 16 starts last year. “I had to go out there and perform. This is football and you have to play with pain, but I was able to overcome it and put together a good season.”

Last year’s injury situation, along with Crennel’s increased use of five and six defensive backs in sub-package personnel, has the Chiefs continuing to weigh veteran options at safety.

Yeremiah Bell was in Kansas City on a free agent visit last Wednesday before he signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the N.Y. Jets two days later. Veteran O.J. Atogwe also made a free agent visit this month and remains on the market.

There are a number of other free agent safeties available who own starting experience and Kansas City currently has three open spaces on its 90-man roster. Adding another safety could come at any moment.

In the meantime, the coaches will be getting a detailed look at some of their younger options.

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