At a recent practice, Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson saw the deep route unfold in front of him. Tyreek Hill — the NFL’s fastest player — seemingly gobbled up yards at the speed of light.
Two years ago, Nelson might have second-guessed his eyes, which would have led to a delayed reaction … which likely would have led to a Hill touchdown.
But no more.
Nelson instead flipped his hips, ran with Hill and watched the ball land incomplete. It was perfect coverage, absolutely worthy of the “Yeah Steve!” it solicited from a teammate on the sideline.
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“Man, y’all better keep playing with me, man,” Nelson yelled back.
When describing this scene on Friday, following the 10th and final voluntary practice of organized team activities, Nelson grinned ever so slyly.
“Just talking trash,” Nelson said with a smile. “That’s just me, man. My competitive spirit.”
Throughout OTAs, Nelson has made more plays on the ball, a function of his ongoing effort to trust his instincts more. Nelson, a third-round pick from Oregon State in 2015, was a full-time starter for the first time last season but didn’t record any interceptions.
“It was night and day from his rookie year to his second year and it’s night and day from his second year to this year,” cornerbacks coach Al Harris said.
Nelson has won over Harris with his intensity and competitiveness, no small matter for a coach who built an outstanding 14-year career as a press-man corner.
“Steve is one of my favorite guys — he works hard all the time, he’s a wound-up type and he plays mad, which I love,” Harris said. “When you talk about like-minded guys in the locker room, he is one of them in there.”
All the work Nelson earned last season has only helped him, too. In 2016, he logged 1,013 of 1,115 defensive snaps, the most of any Chiefs corner. That includes star Marcus Peters, who logged six fewer.
In Nelson’s rookie season, he played only 53 snaps and was essentially a special-teams player.
But Nelson remains unsatisfied. While he has emerged as a dependable starter and nickel corner, he is highly annoyed that he has yet to record an NFL interception after recording eight in two years at Oregon State.
“Of course we all want interceptions, that’s the name of the game,” Nelson said. “I’m ready to take on a role a step higher than last year and just make more plays.”
And as long as Nelson remains coachable — something Harris doesn’t see changing — he says there’s little that will get in his way from accomplishing that goal.
“Whatever I ask him to do, he does it and does it at 100 mph,” Harris said.
The Star’s Alec McChesney contributed to this story.