Before practice Wednesday, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton sidled up to Marcus Peters during warmups for a brief chat.
The Chiefs, 6-5, will play the Oakland Raiders, 5-6, on Sunday at O.co Coliseum, and Sutton knows the game will be a homecoming for Peters, who grew up in Oakland and wears his hometown as a badge of honor.
Sutton has been coaching long enough — more than 40 years — to know emotions can run high during homecoming games like this. So with potential distractions looming — Peters is understandably trying to bring as many friends and family to the game as possible — Sutton just wanted to remind the rookie about the best way to attack the week.
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“I said, ‘Hey, the best way to deliver (Sunday) is to do your job and not get caught up in all the other things,’ ” Sutton said. “It’s human nature, we all know that, but you have to stay focused on what you have to do and go. … You can’t be here physically and not be here mentally.
“He’s done a good job of that, he’s had a good week, and I don’t think that will be an issue.”
In fact, some teammates, like cornerback Sean Smith, have not noticed a change in Peters this week.
“You would think that he would be extra, extra excited that he’s going home, but his mind is focused right now,” Smith said. “He’s looking forward to going out there and playing, looking forward to a good performance.
“He definitely knows he’s going home, but he’s not doing anything out of the norm.”
Smith, in fact, noted that he was far more excited for his first homecoming game as a pro than Peters seems to be for his.
“I was talking all week. ... I know I definitely was more excited than he was,” Smith said. “He’s real chill, laid-back kind of dude.”
But the longer Peters, 22, spoke to the media Thursday, the easier it was to detect both the pride he takes in being from Oakland and the excitement he feels about finally getting a chance to show his hometown how far he’s come — although he will have to do it against the team he grew up rooting for.
“It’s going to be special, man, it’s going to be real special,” Peters said. “I get to go display my talents in front of my community, my hometown. From the start, it’s been nothing but love and support coming up out of there. So all I can do is just go have an excellent game and enjoy it.”
When Peters was a youth, he watched his future high school — McClymonds — play at the Coliseum in the Oakland City Championship. He’s also seen a couple of Raiders games there, and it’s a venue he’s always dreamed of playing in, even though he twice played at nearby Cal-Berkeley during his college career at the University of Washington.
“It was nothing like playing in the Coliseum,” Peters said. “So (my family) got to see it, but (this) is going to be real special, man, because I’m a Raiders fan at heart, but I’m a Chief now.”
But don’t think for a second Peters doesn’t know where his loyalties now lie.
“It’s not strange at all — it’s a part of this game,” Peters said of facing his childhood team. “I play for the Chiefs, and as far as me loving the culture of how the Raiders were when I was growing up, it has nothing to do with now. It’s a business, so I’ve got to go down there and take care of business. We’re trying to do something real special here.”
Indeed. The Chiefs have won five straight, and Peters — their 2015 first-round pick who leads the team in interceptions (four) and pass defenses (16) — has given the secondary a much-needed dose of playmaking ability while steadily improving his technique.
“He’s been a steady climber in that area, and I think to be able to maintain and keep elevating in that area as the season goes on is a real challenge, because practices get more condensed and you have less time in those individual areas,” Sutton said. “I think Marcus has done a good job of that.”
Sutton said Peters also has done a good job taking coaching from defensive backs coaches Emmitt Thomas and Al Harris, something Smith echoed Thursday.
“He remains a student in regards of how much success he’s had,” Smith said. “He’s always willing to learn, to listen. With our coaching staff, we got with Al Harris and Emmitt Thomas. They definitely make sure they stay on top of him.”
All that, when combined with his high football IQ, has allowed Peters to be an immediate contributor to the defense.
“He’s done a really, really good job,” Sutton said. “And if he keeps going, he’s going to be a really good player here.”
One of the reasons Peters fell to the 18th overall pick this year were concerns about his temper, which led to his dismissal from Washington midway through his senior year. But Peters took responsibility for his actions before the draft, and while he has had a handful of fiery outbursts on the field — particularly after penalty calls — none has come back to bite him or his team.
“He’s a highly competitive guy (but you tell him), ‘Sometimes, a penalty is a pretty good call there — I know you don’t want to believe it, but it might have been,’ ” Sutton said. “But he gets it. As long as it doesn’t affect how he plays, I’m not too worried about it.”
Thus far, Sutton — who calls Peters a “great competitor” — says it hasn’t. And while the start of December typically marks the time when rookies start to hit a wall, Sutton says he’s seen no indication Peters will hit that, either.
“I haven’t seen that,” Sutton said. “And I haven’t seen that from Amari Cooper, either.”
Cooper, the receiver who was the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, has had an especially strong rookie campaign, catching 58 passes for 851 yards and four touchdowns for the Raiders.
It’s unclear how often Peters will line up across from him — the Raiders move Cooper around, while Peters typically plays on the left side of the defense — but Peters has taken note of Cooper’s strong rookie season for his childhood team.
“He’s doing his thing, he’s (representing) for the rookies out there,” Peters said. “But we’ve got to go out there, we’ve got to go battle.”
Peters will have plenty of family and friends in attendance, and he’s doing all he can to help them make it to his long-awaited homecoming as an NFL player.
“I’ve got to” do that, Peters said. “Me growing up and being from there, that’s the best thing that could have happened to me. ... I got so much love and support from my mother and father, and just the community in general.”
It will be a day, he hopes, that inspires youths in his hometown to believe they can achieve their dreams, too, if they work hard enough.
“For me to go home and to do my thing in front of my hometown, and to be in Oakland, Calif., and just be playing against the Oakland Raiders … man, that’s a dream come true,” Peters said. “Many people who are going to be watching the game on Sunday, they’re going to be able to witness it and see it’s possible to come up from the bottom and to make it to the top.”