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Sanders Commings could be Chiefs’ answer at free safety

Updated: 2014-02-01T22:34:31Z

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR

The Kansas City Star

With last year’s starter at free safety, Kendrick Lewis, a free agent this offseason, there’s little doubt the Chiefs will be shopping for players at that position.

But while it remains to be seen if they will address this need through free agency or the draft, it’s quite possible that Sanders Commings — the Chiefs’ fifth-round pick last April — also will have a chance to make an impact at the position.

Commings, who is listed at 6 feet and 223 pounds, mainly played cornerback during his five-year career at Georgia and also appeared in two games at the position during his injury-plagued rookie season.

However, the fact the Chiefs, who see him as a safety in the long-term, slapped the short-term injured-reserve tag on him when he broke his collarbone in training camp says a lot about the way they felt about his ability to contribute this year. Thanks to a new rule, teams may now allow one player to be reactivated from IR per year, and the Chiefs chose Commings.

“I thought it was interesting,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of the Chiefs’ selection of Commings last April. “I was in Kansas City this summer for two days and he was a little banged up so I didn’t really get to see him, but I got the sense they liked him and felt like he could be a playmaking safety.”

With Eric Berry holding down the fort at strong safety, where he primarily functions as a linebacker in the box, the Chiefs have a need for a sideline-to-sideline free safety who can make defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s defense sing.

“If you’re talking about that single-high safety that can run sideline-to-sideline, he’s got speed and range,” Mayock said of Commings. “What you’re hoping for with that guy is ball skills and tackling. I know he’s got speed and range, but I don’t really know enough to bang the table and say whether or not he’s got superior ball skills or is willing to be a tackler.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt, who coached Commings for five years, is confident he can be a single-high safety — playing deep to prevent long passes — even though he spent most of his career at cornerback. Richt cited Commings’ baseball background at Georgia as proof.

“Anybody who plays baseball understands how to play the ball,” Richt said. “He’s used those skills to help him as a football player as well. He has great hands and has great vision to chase down a ball in flight, just like a center fielder would.”

Commings actually played center field at Georgia, where he batted .406 with six home runs, 27 RBIs and 18 stolen bases his junior year and was a 37th-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2008.

But Richt, who had two safeties (Shaun Williams and Bacarri Rambo) drafted last year, said he used Commings at cornerback because he was athletic enough to play the position.

“He’s better when he’s got his hands on people,” Richt said. “But he changed directions well, he’s got good speed and he used his size to his advantage as a corner. And if we had some injuries back there (at safety), he was there to fill in the gap and was smart enough do both.”

The Chiefs, however, need Commings to stay healthy if they want to see what he can really do. He was deemed fully healed from his collarbone injury in early November and logged a total of three defensive snaps and 44 special-teams snaps against Denver and San Diego, but re-injuredthe same shoulder before he was placed on injured reserve for good.

Commings’ shoulder problems obviously raise some concerns about his ability to stay healthy going forward, especially for a player billed as a willing and capable tackler coming out of college.

Mayock, however, stressed the importance of looking at the big picture.

“It’s less about one year and it’s more about a body of work,” Mayock said. “How healthy was he in college? Did he answer the bell two or three years in a row? Was he missing four or five games a year in college? That’s what’s more important.”

For what it’s worth, Richt could not remember a time Commings got hurt in college. After his redshirt year in Athens, Commings appeared in 51 of 54 possible games, and two of the games he missed were due to suspension relating to an arrest for simple battery and disorderly conduct.

“If a guy gets banged up for one year, especially his rookie year, to me it’s like, ‘All right, let’s give him a pass, let’s get him in the weight room and bring him back,’ ” Mayock said. “And if it happens again his second year, then we’ve got an issue.”

The Chiefs certainly hope it doesn’t.

“He’s got the size,” Mayock said. “If you put it on paper, it looks good. I just don’t know enough about him at the safety position, but to me, it’s intriguing.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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