With an indication from Chiefs coach Andy Reid that he’ll start his first game this season, cornerback Sean Smith could hardly have drawn a more difficult assignment.
The Chiefs travel to Cincinnati on Sunday and take on an undefeated Bengals team that includes one of the game’s top wide receivers in A.J. Green. Smith figures to be matched up against Green, named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after a 10-reception, 227-yard performance last weekend against the Ravens, at least part of the game.
“It’s definitely fun to compete against a guy like that,” Smith said. “You have to go out and bring your ‘A’ game every snap.”
Even if you haven’t been on the field for any snaps during the regular season.
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Smith was suspended for three weeks by the NFL for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. He pleaded guilty in April to a DUI charge and was given two years of probation.
That’s normally a two-game suspension, but Smith was given an extra game because he crashed into a light pole.
His absence was noticeable.
The Chiefs have faced some of the game’s top quarterbacks over the past two games and have been torched. The Broncos’ Peyton Manning pitched three touchdown passes in a comeback victory Sept. 17 at Arrowhead Stadium. On Monday, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers matched a Chiefs’ opponent record with five touchdown passes in a 38-28 Green Bay victory.
The Chiefs, 1-2, have surrendered a league-high 10 touchdown passes and rank 28th in passing defense, yielding 287 yards per game. This after finishing second last season.
Replacements Jamell Fleming and Marcus Cooper have struggled as No. 3 cornerbacks. Another cornerback, Phillip Gaines, has been lost for the season because of a torn ACL, the team announced Wednesday.
Smith’s return eases the sting of the loss. He has been at Arrowhead on a daily basis, worked out and gone to meetings, but he couldn’t practice from when the preseason ended until Wednesday.
“I made sure I was physically able to be out there and perform, and at the same time, I had to keep the guys sharp mentally,” Smith said.
Smith, a seventh-year pro, did what he could to mentor the secondary.
He watched rookie Marcus Peters get off to a fast start, collecting interceptions in each of his first two games, including a pick-six against Manning. Those are the Chiefs’ lone interceptions this season.
“We definitely started something in (offseason training) and mini-camp to be around here, help the younger guys and show them how preparing for the preseason is different than the regular season,” Smith said. “It was fun watching guys out there making plays.”
But there was no joy in not playing.
“You always want to be out there with your guys,” Smith said. “Not to be able to start the season with them was frustrating to say the least. I couldn’t wait for these days to count down and that clock to strike zero. I’m full go, can’t wait to get on the field.”
Now comes the fun, or hard part, especially if Smith is matched up against Green. The players faced off in 2012, when Smith was with the Dolphins.
“He’s a big, long corner, very athletic,” Green said. “He can run, has long arms. But I’ll take my same approach. I read every defensive back and try to focus on the things they do well and what I can take away.”
Smith’s Dolphins won that encounter. Green had nine receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown on his way to a 97-reception season.
“He can make any catch,” Smith said. “Just put the ball around him and he can make the catch.”
And Smith knows Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will go to Green under nearly any circumstance. “Regardless if it’s one, two, three defenders,” Smith said. “You’ve got to stay on your toes.”
And you have to have your toes on the turf. For the first time this season, Smith will.
“It’s all about the Cincinnati Bengals right now, and we’re ready to get this thing rolling,” Smith said.