For two glorious days, safety Malcolm Bronson was an integral part of the Chiefs first-team defense.
Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry was out nursing a heel injury, and Bronson, a first-year player, filled the spot, teaming with other Pro Bowlers like Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
He never could have imagined such a scenario a year ago.
Bronson missed most of his senior season at McNeese State in 2012 after suffering a torn ACL while covering a punt. The subsequent surgery meant no NFL Scouting Combine. No Pro Day. And no opportunity to be drafted.
“I had a lot of low moments …” he said. “I had a lot of different thoughts in my head. But I had good family support, everyone kept believing in me, and I kept believing in myself.”
The Chiefs also believed in Bronson, a rangy 5-11, 192-pounder, who was his team’s MVP in 2011 and had 10 interceptions in his first three seasons at McNeese. So they signed him as a free agent after the 2013 draft, brought him to Kansas City to finish rehabbing his knee and put him on the practice squad.
“If he hadn’t gotten hurt, he probably would have been drafted,” said Chiefs general manager John Dorsey. “After the draft, as we were researching who was still available, his name popped up. His early film before he hurt his knee, you saw a guy in (FCS) who filled the alleys, had a little bit of toughness to his game in terms of open field tackling. …
“There were double endorsements from area scouts, and we thought it best, if we brought him along slowly, to let him work in training camp last year, worst case scenario would be practice squad. The kid is smart. You look at his Wonderlic scores, they’re probably the highest in the secondary.”
By time Bronson was fully recovered from the knee injury, the preseason games had started, so the Chiefs were no longer tackling in practice. He did not participate in any preseason games last year, so Thursday night’s exhibition opener against Cincinnati will mark Bronson’s pro debut.
“This camp was my first time really tackling and getting back to playing football,” said Bronson, who has also taken advantage of the injury to another 2013 rookie, Sanders Commings, to move up the depth chart.
“I was really blessed to come into the NFL the way I did because of the situation I was in. They gave me time to get my knee back to 100 percent and learn the defense. I got to sit in and learn different things, and that’s enabled me to play fast and know what’s going on.”
Berry returned to practice this week and will play in the first quarter against Cincinnati. Then it will be Bronson’s turn.
“I know I can play,” he said. “I’ve always had confidence in myself. I have to prove it. For me, it’s a relief to finally get on the field and play the game I love and showcase my skills.”
Bronson’s uncle, Zack Bronson, also played at McNeese State and spent seven years in the NFL as a safety with the San Francisco 49ers, and Dorsey sees some of the East Texas toughness in Malcolm.
“It seems every day he’s making a play here and there,” Dorsey said, “and now you want to see him play in the preseason games and see if the game’s too big for him or if it’s too fast for him, or if it’s just right for him.”