Corners help make a great pass rush, too.
Chiefs secondary coach Emmitt Thomas is admittedly biased on the subject. But as a Hall of Fame cornerback, he has a unique perspective on what makes great pass rushers.
“I hope no one gets angry,” Thomas said slowly, “but as far as Kansas City football and the pass rush goes … they’ve always had great corners, too.”
Indeed, the roll call of Chiefs pass-rush greats is accompanied by accomplished corners.
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Jerry Mays, Aaron Brown, Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp in the late 1960s had AFL All-Stars and Pro Bowlers Thomas and Jim Marsalis on the corners.
Art Still and Mike Bell in the late 1970s and early 1980s had three-time Pro Bowler Gary Green and Canadian Football League import Eric Harris, followed by four-time Pro Bowler Albert Lewis and Kevin Ross, a two-time Pro Bowler.
Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith in the 1990s had Lewis and Ross, followed by Dale Carter, a four-time Pro Bowler, and two-time Pro Bowler James Hasty.
Jared Allen and Tamba Hali in the 2000s had Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers.
Hali and Justin Houston of the 2010s had Flowers, who went to the Pro Bowl last season, and Sean Smith.
“Good corners and good coverage dictate sacks,” said former Chiefs assistant coach Tom Pratt, now a pass-rush coach with the Arizona Cardinals. “As you rush the quarterback, you have about two to three seconds of coverage downfield. If the coverage is gone, and it turns into three or four seconds, the quarterback has a free throw at the receivers downfield.
“The coverage and sack production go hand in hand.”
Former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson inherited Ross and Lewis when he took over in 1989, and he saw the value in cover corners. He drafted Carter in the first round in 1992, signed Hasty as a free agent in 1995 and drafted Flowers and Carr in 2008.
“If you have a great corner, it gives your defensive coordinator great flexibility,” Peterson said. “You can take your shutdown corner and you cover the opponent’s (best) outside receiver. The quarterback is going to have to wait a little bit longer to throw it, then the pass rusher is going to arrive as he gets rid of the ball or before he gets rid of it.”