The young cornerback scanned the receiver’s body, looking for a tell. And the moment Demaryius Thomas planted off his inside foot and drove to the sideline, Marcus Peters broke.
Fifty-five yards later, Peters — who correctly anticipated a Peyton Manning hot route with a blitz in his face — was frantically high-stepping into the end zone with the football and posing as his new teammates swarmed him.
It was, to be sure, what Peters hoped the NFL would be like after the Chiefs invested the 18th overall pick in him during year’s NFL Draft.
“Like Eric Berry says, you have to live your dreams out, and my dream was to come to the NFL and to make my presence be felt and to be welcomed by my teammates by my play,” Peters said. “Not by just the words I speak, (but) by me going out there and proving myself.”
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Through two games, Peters has done just that. He is tied for the team lead in tackles with 12, and while quarterbacks have not been afraid to attack him, he has risen to the challenge as he’s already started generating some early buzz for defensive rookie of the year.
According to Pro Football Focus, Peters has yielded 14 receptions on 27 targets — a very respectable 51.9 catch percentage — and is far and away the team’s leader pass breakups with seven, as no one else has more than three (Jamell Fleming).
What’s more, with his two interceptions — he also picked off Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer in week one — Peters has given the Chiefs a dash of playmaking in the secondary they desperately lacked a year ago, when they finished tied for last in the league with a paltry six interceptions.
“He can play — he can flat out play,” safety Husain Abdullah said. “It’s going to be a joy to watch him as the season progresses and as he starts to pick up even more than he already knows. He can play.”
Peters cares, too, as Abdullah found out after he let a bobbled interception slip through his fingers in the fourth quarter Thursday. Peters was right there, hugging him during the near-pick and encouraging him afterward with a fiery look in his eyes.
It was one of many times Peters has worn his emotion on his sleeve during the Chiefs’ first two games, as he could constantly be seen yelling and strutting and, as Chiefs coach Andy Reid puts it, letting his personality show.
In that way, it’s like a light-switch flipped on since training camp, when Peters was impressive but not demonstrative.
“He’s a competitive kid,” Reid said. “I mentioned this before — you have to have a short memory when you’re out on the edge there. You also have to have talent, that helps, and he’s got both.”
That much was apparent in camp, at least to his teammates.
“That’s one of the first things I picked up on, his football IQ,” said fellow cornerback Sean Smith, who is suspended for the Chiefs’ first three games because of his DUI arrest in June 2014. “You’ve got some guys who are used to playing in a certain system, or played only in the boundary and they’re a little limited on their learning curve.
“But he came out here, (and) you try to coach him up on something and you see he’s already on the same page as you. Right now, if (he’s working on) anything, it’s all technical. This hand, this step (in coverage), this alignment. But as far as recognizing or anything mental, he’s straight.”
This is not a shock to the Chiefs’ front office. General manager John Dorsey said Peters’ natural feel for the position was one of the reasons the Chiefs were intrigued by a corner who was dismissed from his college team (Washington) in November after several clashes with a new coaching staff and who didn’t tear up the NFL Combine.
“He plays the game with his eyes, (and) the good ones play with the eyes,” Dorsey said. “From the corner position, he can actually read and mirror routes of the receiver, and I think that’s a good thing.
“And then he has the fluid, athletic hips to turn, run and change directions. Then he can run support, he’s a square tackler, and he’s got good ball skills.”
Peters has shown all of that thus far, but he credits his football-loving family — his dad is a high school coach and he lived across the street from his high school field — for helping cultivate an institutional knowledge of the game that allows him to always be around the ball.
“It’s paying attention to the small details, how many steps they take in their routes,” Peters said. “It’s just something that gradually grows on you, and for me, it just comes from being around the game of football a lot.
“Like I said, I’ve got my pops, he’s an offensive coordinator. So dealing with him a lot, you’ve got to scheme things. Even if we’re playing Madden at the house and stuff like that, it all translates back to the field.”
Peters says that his innate football IQ is the reason he’s been able to make such a quick transition to the NFL.
“I think that’s where people get lost in it, man — it’s still ball,” Peters said. “You’ve got to go out there and line up with 10 other guys and you’ve got to go make a play. If it comes down to you making the play on that down (by) eliminating your man, you did your job and the defense is ahead.”
By that definition, Peters is doing his job more often than not. And even when he hasn’t, Reid is pleased with Peters’ ability to stay focused and bounce back.
“He’s able to learn from his mistakes and then come right back at it and challenge you again,” Reid said. “He did that, even with that last third-and-9 play that Thomas caught (on the game-tying drive), it was contested and he was right there on top of it and the kid made a good play on him. He wasn’t shying away against one of the better receivers in the league.”
That competitiveness will come in handy down the road. Peters’ start has been electrifying — Reid even confirmed Peters was an “energy-giver,” which is the type of player he looks for — but he knows there are 14 games remaining, and teams have even more tape on him to attack.
“He’s done a very nice job and he’s been a pleasure to be around,” Reid said. “He works hard, and again, his challenge will just be not on that (effort) front, but he’s young in the business, so people will study him and then he’s got to keep answering the bell every week.”
Peters, for his part, seems to understand that for as well as he’s played, the purpose is to win. When asked after Thursday’s 31-24 loss how it felt to record his first career pick-six off Manning, Peters didn’t take the bait.
“It feels good, but it stings too bad,” Peters said. “It’s a team game, and as a team, we took a tough loss. All the individual accolades we can make, I leave them on the field without the W.”