After watching Sean Smith turn in a career year in 2014, then seeing him continue his strong play in organized team activities, the Chiefs understand that replacing the seventh-year cornerback during his three-game suspension won’t be easy.
But they’ve taken steps to prepare for Smith’s absence in September while he serves his punishment for a March DUI plea. Two big ones were the selections of rookie cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson in this year’s NFL Draft.
The fact the Chiefs used two premium picks for cornerbacks — a first-rounder on Peters and one of two third-rounders on Nelson — is a strong indication they considered it position of need, both in the short-term and long-term.
Smith is expected to miss games versus Denver (Sept. 17) and Green Bay (Sept. 28). Against teams that feature elite quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, respectively, it’s safe to assume the Chiefs will lean on Peters and Nelson in some capacity.
The two rookies were forced to miss a healthy chunk of OTAs due to NCAA rules and will need to make the most of every moment they get to prepare, including the light, non-contact practices held this week before Saturday’s first full-squad practice.
The good news is that both players seem to understand and embrace that.
“It’s just a replay of everything we went over (after) coming in for the minicamp (in June),” Peters said when asked to sum up Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices. “We just go back over the installs, and when the vets come in, we turn it up a notch.”
“Now we’re getting a lot more reps,” Nelson said, “so you’ve just to be mentally ready.”
That’s easier said than done. Rookies take their lumps in professional football, and nowhere can that spiral out of control more quickly than at cornerback, where failures — allowing big pass plays and touchdowns — are highlighted repeatedly on television.
Good thing both players have a healthy amount of confidence in their own abilities.
“Yeah, he’s a real confident player, and I think you’ve got to have that,” Nelson said of Peters. “Because if we don’t, we’re susceptible to being beat, playing the position we play.”
Peters, who seemed happy to be back on the field, said he and Nelson have stayed in contact as each seeks to master what the team expects of him.
“We’ve been roommates ever since we reported to Kansas City, and we’ve been in the playbook together every night, communicating with each other back and forth if we need each other’s help,” said Peters, who played at the University of Washington. “So yeah, we have an excellent relationship. And he went to Oregon State with a few of my friends.”
Nelson said he gets along well with Peters.
“He’s a good guy, man, a real chill guy,” Nelson said. “We help each other out whenever we can, just going over the playbook or anything.”
The pair’s shared experiences as rookie cornerbacks should be helpful in coming weeks, when they confront the on-field challenges that are sure to arrive once the veterans start practicing on Saturday.
“I know everything is going to be turned up,” Peters said. “We have a big goal among this team, and that’s to win the Super Bowl.”