Last line of defenders are lumped together as defensive backs, but that generic term fails to explain the specific skill sets of the cornerbacks, safeties and nickel corners.
Ron Parker is an excellent source for this. He’s played them all.
“Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I try and do my best,” Parker said.
That’s a good thing because perhaps no player on the roster has been asked to shift more than Parker.
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A year ago, Parker had 11 starts at strong safety and four at cornerback. He opened this year at safety.
But the season-ending injury to Phillip Gaines against the Green Bay Packers in the third game meant a move to the nickel corner and adjustment for Parker.
“It was a big challenge, playing more nickel,” Parker said. “At first I wasn’t comfortable there. But it kind of played out the way it did when I moved to other positions. It’s uncomfortable until I can work with it and rep in it.”
Parker has started seven games at safety and three at nickel. He’s second on the team in tackles with 45 after leading the team in that department last year, and he’s come up big during the team’s four-game winning streak that’s resulted in a 5-5 record entering Sunday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills.
Parker recorded two sacks against the Lions, doubling his career total, and had one of the Chiefs’ five interceptions in the victory at Denver. On the season, Parker has 10 passed defended, second on the team to cornerback Marcus Peters’ 14.
Beyond the stats sheet, Parker’s acceptance of his changing roles and desire to pour everything into new ventures is what coach Andy Reid means when he repeats, “I like this team.”
“There’s no question that no one wants to do a job they don’t feel like they’re prepared to do,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “But with Ron, it was, ‘OK, let’s go. Help me get ready.’
“He’s the ultimate team guy.”
Prep work was the tough part.
“That position is its own world,” Sutton said. “It’s not an easy job. You’re involved in a lot of things, from blitzing to cover in man and zone, and he’s done a really nice job.”
Parker’s athletic life has been defined by versatility. He played football, baseball and basketball at Beaufort High in South Carolina, and multiple positions at each sport. Parker said he was driven by curiosity.
“I wanted to see what it was like playing different positions,” he said. “It’s always been my mentality.”
Parker enrolled at Independence Community College in Kansas and returned to his home state to finish school at Newberry College, where he became a three-time Division II All-America.
Parker put up big numbers in college, leading the conference in interceptions in each of his final two seasons but wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine. And he wasn’t selected in the draft.
He signed with Seattle in 2011 and appeared in five games with the Seahawks and Oakland Raiders that year. He played three games with the Carolina Panthers in 2012 before finding a home with the Chiefs in 2013.
He started to grow roots when Parker signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Chiefs after last season.
“When I signed the deal and thought about the numbers, it felt unreal,” Parker said.
The Chiefs may have felt like they were getting a bargain, paying one player who can effectively play multiple positions.
“When you’re moving around, the important thing is you have to know what’s going around you,” Parker said. “Where there’s help, what you can and can’t do. With me, it’s all about understanding the game. And then not going out there and moaning about being moved around.”