Red Zone

The Chiefs and NFL by beat writers Randy Covitz and Terez Paylor

Ranking the Chiefs’ 2014 training camp battles: No. 5 — free safety

07/16/2014 12:29 PM

07/18/2014 2:17 AM

As a lead-in to the Chiefs’ training camp in St. Joseph, which begins when rookies report on July 20, The Star will rank the 10 most interesting position battles.

5. Free safety

Fans roundly celebrated the free-agent departure of Kendrick Lewis, who struggled down the stretch last season and became synonymous with the secondary’s swoon in the second half of the season.

Fewer noticed, however, when another contributor at safety last season, Quintin Demps, decided to sign with the Giants. Demps actually led the Chiefs in interceptions with four and was a key part of their nickel packages, as he was often the player teamed with Lewis when they played two-deep.

Demps showed some good speed and ball skills, but also made some key mental errors that contributed to the defense’s struggles. It’s quite possible that both players’ fates were sealed in Kansas City when they allowed receiver T.Y. Hilton to split them on a post route, resulting in a 64-yard game-winning touchdown in the 45-44 playoff loss to Indianapolis.

So yes, the Chiefs clearly needed a safety (or two) with more range and playmaking ability … only, they didn’t bring in a free agent or draft a safety. Instead, they will be relying on a couple of interesting returnees from last season, Husain Abdullah and Sanders Commings, to do the job.

Abdullah, 28, earned some playing time in the Chiefs’ dime packages last season, his first with the Chiefs. He is generally regarded to be a reliable player and is a favorite of general manager John Dorsey.

A former starter in Minnesota, Abdullah took a year off from football in 2012 to go on a spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia. There was little rust, however, as he finished second on the team with 10 special-teams tackles last season and also showed a knack for making plays, as he tallied three interceptions in 348 defensive snaps, including two in the loss to Indianapolis.

Abdullah, who signed a two-year deal to remain with the club this offseason, is the favorite to start at free safety in the base defense, but he’ll have to hold off Commings, who boasts an intriguing skill-set but needs to stay healthy after having the majority of his rookie season wiped out with a shoulder injury.

Sanders, who ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine, played lots of cornerback in college at Georgia and offers some cover skills for a safety. He also has range, which he put on display during organized team activities on a handful of occasions in which he ran over from the center of the field and made interceptions near the sideline.

Like Abdullah, the team’s decision makers are intrigued by his talent, and he will have a legitimate chance to win the job. However, it almost doesn’t matter because both have a chance to help in nickel and dime. Abdullah is versatile enough to play in the box or deep, depending on where the Chiefs want to play strong safety Eric Berry this season, and Commings has enough range to play two-deep alongside either player.

Other players to keep an eye on include Malcolm Bronson, a practice-squad player a year ago who earned reps in OTAs playing deep and as a slot cornerback in the nickel, and veteran Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick of the Packers in 2012.

Both are players long shots to win the job, though Bronson could again be a practice-squad candidate. Also, keep an eye on cornerback Ron Parker, a former college safety who earned a few reps there during OTAs and could do it again in a pinch.

Next up: Backup tight end

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

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