Rookie cornerback D.J. White could barely contain his enthusiasm when secondary coach Al Harris told him he was starting the Chiefs’ preseason game against the Rams on Saturday.
“I can’t even lie, I was excited man,” said White, a sixth-round pick from Georgia Tech. “They told me in a subtle kind of way.”
And sure enough, once the game — a 21-20 Chiefs loss — started, White was out there with the base defense, playing opposite star cornerback Marcus Peters and shifting inside to cover the slot when the Chiefs went in nickel.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said White, who recorded two tackles in the game, earned the opportunity based on the way he’s been practicing and his performance in the preseason opener, a 17-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in which White had four tackles and broke up a pass by squeezing a slant route and forcing an incompletion with suffocating coverage.
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“It was great for him to get in and get a taste of the speed and quickness out there,” Reid said of the Rams game. “It was a good crowd with the noise and intensity we had. It was a notch up from a normal preseason game.”
Reid said the 5-foot-11, 193-pound White has also impressed the staff with his practice habits and feel for the game, which has allowed him to take to the nickel position quickly. That’s not a necessarily a given for a rookie; one of the Chiefs’ third-rounders last year, Steven Nelson, essentially sat for most of the 2015 season while he learned the position, and this year’s third-rounder, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, has seen backup reps behind White and might in the same boat as Nelson was a year ago.
“He has good instincts,” Reid said of White. “With that, he has athletic ability as well. In this game, you have to have those instincts and a good feel for things.”
White attributed this to his preparation. He spent the last several months learning all he can from Harris and defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas.
“It’s just paying attention to the details in practice and doing what you’re coached to do and trusting your technique and athleticism,” White said.
All that said, White knows he’s still got a ways to go. The Rams game taught him that; overall he feels he did well — “a solid performance,” he said — but he knows he needs to keep learning as he works on maintaining his eye discipline in pass coverage (i.e. peeking in the backfield).
“Especially as a young player, your eyes will get you in trouble,” White said. “You’ve got to trust your instincts to make plays, but you can’t put your team in a bad situation.”
Hali could practice this week
Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali hasn’t practiced all offseason, but it appears there’s a chance he could return to the pratcice field this week.
Reid said the 32-year-old Hali, who has battled knee problems the last three seasons, could do some on-field work as he starts the process of getting back to football shape after missing the entire three-week camp in St. Joseph.
“I think there’s a chance we bring Tamba along slowly,” Reid said.
When asked if that might look similar to the on-field workout plan another star veteran, running back Jamaal Charles, has been doing over the last week — where he’s basically appeared for warmups and stretching before retreating to the locker room — Reid did not rule it out.
“Some of that is just going to be eyeball stuff and recovery, a combination of things there, and just see how he is,” Reid said.
Reid said other players who missed Saturday’s game and could be back this week include running back Charcandrick West (elbow) and cornerback Phillip Gaines (knee).