It’s been approximately six weeks since Kenneth Acker was informed he’d been dealt to the Chiefs, and the process of adjusting to a new team, a new city — a new everything — is ongoing.
Acker, a 24-year-old cornerback, was not unhappy about the trade from San Francisco, which received a 2018 seventh-round pick for the third-year pro. But before the Chiefs’ home win against the Jets, he admitted he was still getting his bearings in Kansas City.
“People think you just up and go to another spot,” Acker said with a chuckle. “But it’s like, I mean, I turned around one day and I was in one spot, and the next day I was somewhere two time zones different.”
That meant he needed to get adjusted to a new coaching staff, a new training staff and a new equipment staff. But Acker, a former sixth-round pick, likes how things are going so far.
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“It’s going cool — fitting in good with everybody, trying to get everything going in my personal life, as well as on the field,” Acker said. “You can’t be in a bad mental space and think you’re going to go out there and perform well. I’m really just trying to get everything going back in my head right.”
Acker has continued to make process since. Though he did not dress for the Chiefs’ first three games, he dressed for their last game, a 43-14 loss at Pittsburgh. He did not log any defensive snaps, but he did play 15 special-teams snaps — 52 percent of the team’s overall snaps in that area. That should not be a surprise, considering general manager John Dorsey touted Acker’s special-teams ability when he traded for him.
“He’s got athleticism and he’s going to help on special teams and as a backup corner,” Dorsey said at the time. “He was everything we thought could help us, so that’s why we acted on the trade. The compensation, we thought, was fair.”
The Chiefs’ decision to sit third corner Phillip Gaines — who tweaked his knee days before the Steelers game — likely led to Acker’s activation. When Gaines is healthy, Acker has been behind him on the depth chart, as well as behind starters Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson and fourth corner D.J. White.
That’s why White, a sixth-round rookie, logged most of the third-corner defensive snaps in Gaines’ absence against the Steelers. And while White has definitely caught the Chiefs’ attention with his overall skills and knowledge of the game, he did appear to struggle some against the Steelers in his first extensive NFL action, allowing a few big plays.
“It was a tough night for him, big plays,” cornerbacks coach Al Harris said of White. “But he’s going to be all right, he’s going to be all right. You can’t win them all; you got to win the ones — and I expect for him to win the ones — that he was faced with (against Pittsburgh). But he’ll be OK. He’ll be all right.”
It remains to be seen how the playing time at cornerback will shake out against the Oakland Raiders this week, especially if Gaines is ready to return to action. But the point remains that the Chiefs greatly value competition at the position.
And Acker, who was kept on the roster over rookie third-rounder KeiVarae Russell, could eventually earn some defensive playing time if he makes enough progress and impresses during practice. Russell was surprisingly released a month ago.
“Ack is doing a good job,” Harris said. “He’s coming along. He listens, he’s fun to be around — he’s not sensitive. He’s doing a good job.”
Acker, who is listed at 6 feet and 194 pounds, also has some athletic ability. At Southern Methodist’s pro day, he ran a hand-timed 4.5-second 40-yard dash and posted a 36-inch vertical, along with a 6.94 in the three-cone drill. He also has some experience. He started 13 games for the 49ers last season — primarily as an outside corner — while recording 65 tackles, eight pass deflections and three interceptions.
But Acker’s biggest key to unlocking more playing time will be utilizing his mind and getting up to speed with the Chiefs’ defensive scheme.
“I feel like I’m picking it up pretty good,” Acker said. “I mean, I’m a pretty smart guy at the end of the day, so it’s not really about understanding it, it’s about communicating with teammates, knowing what I’m doing with the players that’s around me rather than just looking at some X’s and O’s.”
That generally means getting comfortable with the pre-play defensive checks and the body language of his fellow defenders.
“Everything that you just can’t pick up (without time),” Acker said.
It’s also a matter of technique, Acker said. For instance, in the past, he was taught to step sideways at the start of each play. In Kansas City, the corners are taught to step forward.
“It’s something I had to get mentally (used to),” Acker said. “Somebody would say, ‘Oh, that’s a little thing.’ But to train yourself to do a different first step is something I have to work on; it’s something you’ve got to harp on. It’s like two totally different techniques. People just don’t understand. It’s all about fit for a player in the secondary.”
The good news for Acker is that he likes his fit in Kansas City.
“I could do the job right now,” Acker said. “But right now, it’s a point where I’m just waiting for my opportunity. They gave me a lot of respect in the aspect I got traded and I feel like I’m wanted here ... so I’m really just waiting for that time and blending in as best as possible and trying to find what my role is right now, as of today.”