CB Phillip Gaines Made a Name for Himself in 2014

The rookie progressed from specialist to starting cornerback

After selecting cornerback Phillip Gaines out of Rice University in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was asked whether he thought Gaines would have an immediate impact on the field.

His answer was almost prophetic.

"He's a really good athlete. For sure, [on] special teams," he said confidently. "If you really watch him at times, I could project him [as a] gunner right away."

Of course, he was right. In Weeks 1 and 2 combined, Gaines played in 18 snaps on special teams, and then in Week 3, he showed exactly why Dorsey felt the way he did at the draft.  

The Chiefs were up 21-10 on the Miami Dolphins and kicked the ball off to Jarvis Landry. Landry darted up the field 74 yards with no one in front of him and Gaines, who was initially about three yards behind him, chased him down, saving a touchdown.

The Dolphins would have to settle for a field goal to make it 21-13, and when the Chiefs got the ball back, they went three-and-out. Punter Dustin Colquitt had to kick out of the Chiefs' own end zone and boomed the ball to about the Miami 35-yard line, where Landry was met with a monstrous hit by Gaines.

The Chiefs went on to beat the Dolphins for their first win of the season and the following week, against the Patriots, Gaines continued to prove why he belonged.

On Monday Night Football, the Chiefs built a 14-0 lead against the Patriots, and after the Chiefs' drive stalled, Colquitt lined up at the Kansas City 37-yard line to punt.

Patriots returner Julian Edelman fielded the ball at the 9-yard line, where he was met by Gaines, and New England was backed up deep in their own territory.

In the second half, with the Chiefs up 17-0, Colquitt again had to punt, this time from the New England 38-yard line. The beautifully kicked punt bounced at the 7-yard line, then into the hands of Gaines at the 1-yard line, who tiptoed the goal line and shoveled the ball backwards to down it.

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The Chiefs won the game 41-14 as Gaines continued to impress the coaching staff.

"He's a three-phase starter for us and he's our number one gunner right now," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said of Gaines at the time. "He's been making a lot of plays out there. They've been singling him up. I told him, 'Get ready, they're going to probably start doubling you now.' But the last two weeks he made some big plays covering those bomb kicks that (Dustin) Colquitt's been giving us."

In Week 5 against the 49ers, Gaines suffered a concussion while trying to block a field goal, but the Chiefs' bye week in Week 6 allowed the rookie to miss no time.

When he returned to the Chiefs in time for Week 7 against the Chargers, Gaines was rewarded for his special teams play with 34 snaps (65 percent) at the cornerback position.

Gaines' signature play in the game and maybe the year was a third-and-goal stop in the end zone against Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. Before the snap, quarterback Philip Rivers saw a one-on-one matchup with Allen and Gaines.

Rivers hiked the ball and attempted to float the ball to Allen, who Gaines stayed with step by step. Instead of a touchdown, Gaines knocked the ball away, and the Chiefs would go on to win by three points.

"Gaines, I thought, did a good job on the inside," head coach Andy Reid said in the week after the game. "When he had chances on the outside, he did a nice job there. I came out feeling positive about that."

Aside from two weeks when he was dealing with an ankle issue (Weeks 10 and 12), Gaines played in at least 68 percent of the snaps at cornerback the rest of the way until December 10, when his second concussion of the year effectively ended his season.

Before that, in Weeks 13 and 14, Gaines played in 100 percent of the snaps on defense.

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Photos from the 2014 season of Phillip Gaines.

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Gaines' year is a prime example of the development method of the Kansas City Chiefs. How it worked with Gaines is how the staff plans it to work.

First, Dorsey drafts a player with the highest talent level on his board. Then, specialists like Toub and defensive backs coaches Emmitt Thomas and Al Harris work with the player to improve his technique.

If the player excels at the smaller roles, as in the case with Gaines, he can become a starter.

By his season's end, Gaines came full circle. He worked hard, made a name for himself on special teams, and that eventually translated to Bob Sutton's defense.

As the Chiefs prepared for the Bills in Week 10, Gaines spoke about what changed for him from training camp on forward.

"My confidence has definitely grown throughout the season so that's making me play a little faster and a little easier," he said. "At the beginning of the season, you have some of those nerves but as you progress through the season, that kind of gets out."

Unfortunately for Gaines, injury and illness ended his year early, but in his limited body of work in 2014, his confidence, skill and comfort with the scheme grew, and with that, the Chiefs have a lot to look forward to.

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