When the Chiefs released Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers last Friday, one of the men who stood to benefit the most from the move didn’t have much warning.
“I had just finished working out here,” second-year cornerback Marcus Cooper said after a recent practice in Kansas City. “I found out when you guys probably found out.”
Cooper politely declined to discuss his reaction to the news. (“I can’t get into that, I’m just worried about myself and worried about my football shift,” he said.) But he did make it clear that he’s not about to be starry-eyed just because now he’s a projected starter.
“Whether Brandon was here or not, I still would still compete as if I was going for the starting job,” Cooper said. “There’s no big difference.”
That makes sense. Not only did the the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Cooper earn plenty of playing time last season, when he started six games after being claimed off waivers from San Francisco, but as a top backup, he also spent the Chiefs’ voluntary practices during organized team activities with the first team while Flowers held out.
Cooper is not the only young corner the staff has gotten a chance to take a long look at, however. The man he’s been paired with at cornerback for the last two weeks of practice, fourth-year veteran Ron Parker, didn’t ascend to the first team until Sean Smith was cited for driving under the influence and careless driving on June 9.
But like Cooper, Parker has said all the right things when it comes to seizing the opportunity.
“Oh yeah, I always think I’m going to be able to compete for that spot,” Parker said. “I’m just doing whatever the coaches are asking me to do.”
Smith, who signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract before last season, attended all four voluntary practices last week but was demoted to second team for all of them. He missed all three of the Chiefs’ mandatory practices this week because of illness, according to a team spokesman.
When asked if Smith, 26, would regain his starting job when training camp rolls around in mid-to-late July — the players are now off until then — Chiefs coach Andy Reid was noncommittal.
“We will see,” Reid said. “There’s competition there, and we’ll see how all that works. The other kids did a nice job. Coop was working in there and did a nice job. Parker did a nice job at the other corner.”
Reid, however, made it clear that his two young corners have plenty of growth ahead of them, and there have been signs of that during workouts.Both have been beaten on a handful of deep passes, though it’s tough to assign responsibility without knowing the players’ defensive assignments.
Still, both players showed flashes of being productive last season, and it might behoove the Chiefs to see how much each can improve. Cooper, 24, earned the Chiefs’ rookie of the year award for 2013 after logging 44 tackles and three interceptions. Parker, 26, finished with 17 tackles and showed a knack for making plays, with a sack and two interceptions in limited action.
“Listen, they’ve all got a long way to go,” Reid said. “Ron is a tough kid that’s going to challenge every play, and that’s the thing that jumps at you. We saw that last year when he was in the game (and) he made plays. It seemed like the ball went his way. He forced turnovers when he had opportunities last year. That’s a plus.”
Parker, who is on his fourth NFL team, opened some eyes with his impressive performance against the Chargers in last year’s season finale, in which he had six tackles, an interception and two pass deflections.
“I just went out there and played and played my heart out and gave it all I could,” Parker said. “I had a good game, I think.”
Good enough, it seems, to get an extended look this preseason, one that neither he nor his new running mate, Cooper, are taking for granted.
“You have no time to lose (your edge),” Cooper said. “This game’s not for long, and you really have to come out there at the top of your (game). That’s what I try to do every day.”