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Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Defensive Backs

In this series we take a look at each of the positional groups of the Kansas City Chiefs; today it’s the defensive backs

The defensive backfield is one of the areas of focus for the Kansas City Chiefs as they get set for the first preseason game on Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

With some turnover on the roster from last season, there are some new faces that should see some significant playing time in 2014.

One face that's not new who will be seeing plenty of the field is Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, who spoke after practice about his focus for the defense on every play this season.

"I'm just hoping the ball comes loose," Berry said. "I think that's the most important thing about the sport is getting the ball out."

In addition to turnovers, Berry wants to see the defense take the next step in its development as a group.


"I want to see us finish," Berry said. "Whether it's a play, knocking the ball down at the end of the play or everybody rallying to the ball, just making the tackle when we're supposed to make the tackle and I think that's been the big emphasis since last year is finishing. Whatever it is, if we get that accomplished, I feel like we would have made big strides."

Berry finished the 2013 season with 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions, while also adding two touchdowns.

Just recently, the Chiefs signed free agent safety Steve Gregory, who spent last season with the New England Patriots.

In his eight-year career, Gregory has 357 tackles and seven interceptions.

Gregory came to the Chiefs after second-year safety Sanders Commings had surgery due to an injury at practice earlier in training camp.

While Gregory hasn't been with the Chiefs for very long, getting him up to speed will be a key area to watch as the Chiefs get ready for their four preseason games.


"His biggest transition will be his terminology," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "What he might've been used to calling apples, we call oranges, so that's going to be his first transition. I think we got a good football player. He's a guy that can take command back there, he's done that in the past in his career and he's played some different positions."

Gregory agrees that learning the new terminology will be his biggest transition.

"I think that is the biggest challenge," Gregory said. "You might understand the concept of a defense but you have to get used to the words that they say. That is what I am in the process of doing right now: understanding the terminology, transferring words that I correlate with something to the way that they correlate it here."

Meanwhile, another safety who might not have as many years in the NFL as Gregory, but has been with the Chiefs longer and has been getting first-team reps with the defense during training camp is Jerron McMillian.

Sutton has moved McMillian around and likes what he sees from the third-year player.

"He's got experience and pretty good range for a safety," Sutton said. "He's played some different down-low positions as well. We're excited for all of those guys. The one good thing about Andy's camps is that you get enough reps, so these guys can get out there and give us a chance to evaluate them."

Most of the other first-team reps have been going to Husain Abdullah, who has showcased his versatility as well so far during training camp.


As another veteran on this roster, Abdullah knows bringing young guys along will only help the entire team moving forward. He spoke after practice about the best way to help develop those younger players.

"Just talk to them," Abdullah said. "Be honest with them. Be truthful with them. [When] they have a question, tell them how it is. Tell them how it's supposed to be played. Tell them what I've learned through my experiences and that's how really everyone can come along a whole lot faster."

The two young safeties on the roster have also been taking advantage of their opportunity, as second-year player Malcolm Bronson and rookie Daniel Sorensen have mixed in with the first team at different points so far during camp.

"I think Malcolm (Bronson) has had a really good camp," Sutton said. "He's showing the ability to take command back there, and he's got a pretty good handle on what we're doing. He's a young guy; he redshirted last year, he didn't play at all, so this is really his rookie year and so he's learning a lot."

Sorensen, the undrafted rookie from BYU, was noted for his special teams ability in college and has been showcasing his abilities at camp.

"I like that he went to BYU," head coach Andy Reid said. "He was a good, solid player in college. Smart kid, tough, comes from a family of football players. He's the youngest of the bunch. Good, solid player."


Moving onto cornerbacks, Sutton believes there's plenty of competition at the position so far through a couple of weeks of training camp, which he sees as a good thing.

"I think the whole back end is going to be really competitive, which is a positive thing," Sutton said. "We're fortunate to have several positions like that, where not only a couple of players that are undecided, but even the ones that aren't undecided, we've got some competition in that room."

Sutton went on to explain what they're focused on teaching here at training camp.

"At this time of year, the big thing you are really trying to develop is your technique," Sutton said. "This is so important for us to do this right now, and we are really kind of drilling down on the technique: hand placement, footwork—all those things. So we have to take advantage of these reps we get. We get a lot of reps out here the way Andy (Reid) has it set up so it is really a valuable tool for us."

Coming into his fifth NFL season, Ron Parker looks to make the transition from a situational nickelback or sub-player, to a starting outside cornerback this season.

When asked what he worked on specifically during the offseason, Parker talked athletic fluidity and range.

"I worked on coming out of my breaks," Parker said. "Like quick change of directions, coming back down hill, laterally moving side-to-side. I've been working on that this past year so I think I got better."

As he worked to gain more lateral agility and quickness, Parker also shared why he likes playing in Sutton's defensive scheme.


"I like pressing," Parker said. "I like playing man. I just like locking up. Get physical, get in your face, put hands on you and play my type of style."

Starting on the first-team defense opposite of Parker at cornerback has been Marcus Cooper, the second-year player who came over from the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Cooper said lessons he learned last year helped in his development going into this season.

"Preparation and experience," Cooper said. "I've seen the things that got me in trouble last year that I learned from. I'm trying not to make those mistakes anymore. And just coming around and working on my technique."

While Parker and Cooper have seen the majority of the first-team reps, five-year veteran Sean Smith has been working predominantly with the second team. But Reid was quick to point out that Smith is an important part of this defense moving forward.

"We look at Sean as a first team player," Reid said. "We need all of those guys and we need two deep at the corner, but we feel like that two deep is equivalent to starting players. That's what we're looking for."

The nickelback (third corner) position has been held down for most of training camp by Chris Owens, a five-year veteran who spent time with both the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins last season.

Brandon Jones, Justin Rogers, Vernon Kearney, Kevin Rutland and DeMarcus Van Dyke are all the mix as well.

Best images of the Chiefs Defensive Backs from Training Camp.

The only rookie at cornerback who is currently on the roster is third-round pick and former Rice Owl Phillip Gaines, who has already been impressing coaches with his natural athleticism. Through two weeks of camp, Gaines knows where his focus lies moving forward.

"Technique; I'm always going to go back to technique because once you perfect your technique, then everything else becomes easier," Gaines said. "If you try to work something else before that, then you're never going to be at the top of your game, but if you perfect that technique first, then everything else will come."

When asked who he tries to emulate on the field, Gaines was quick to point out the Pro Bowler in the backfield.

"I would definitely say EB (Eric Berry)," Gaines said. "I love watching him because not only is he just a really good athlete, he really understands the game, and that's what makes him excel so much."

Berry, Gaines and the rest of the defensive backs look forward to the opportunity to finally go up against someone in a different colored jersey.

The Chiefs take on the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium.


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