Phillip Gaines trotted out with the first-team defense in Saturday’s preseason game against the Bengals, which wasn’t a rare occurrence in his fourth year with the Chiefs.
Gaines has appeared in 27 games, starting 13 over his NFL career. But injuries have slowed his progress, and it’s been natural to wonder about his position on the team.
Perhaps that remains the case, but it was a good sign for Gaines that he worked with the starters in the base defense on Saturday.
Steven Nelson, who has started on the right side most of training camp, sat out practices earlier in the week with an injury, but worked out on Wednesday and played in sub-packages on Saturday.
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“One thing I can say about Phil, if he’s hurt or whatever he gives us 100 percent,” said Chiefs secondary/cornerbacks coach Al Harris. “Does exactly what you ask him to do.”
Gaines was practicing this week through an injured finger he suffered in last week’s preseason opener.
“You never heard him complain,” Harris said.
Gaines has been an intriguing cornerback candidate for the Chiefs since they selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft from Rice. The team likes his 6-foot frame and athleticism.
He started five games as a rookie, opened the 2015 year as a starter but tore his left ACL in the third game. The knee remained an issue most of last season, when Gaines appeared in 11 games, while starting five. He collected his first career interception last season against the Colts.
Saturday, Gaines often found himself lined up against Bengals’ starting wide receiver A.J. Green, and Green finished with four receptions in the matchup. Green pushed off against Gaines, drawing an offensive pass interference penalty in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Gaines appeared to have blanket coverage on Green, who came back to the sideline for the 15-yard reception on a fourth-and-6.
But he was part of a defense that kept the Bengals starting offense out of the end zone throughout the first half. Twice, Cincinnati drives stalled and ended field goals.
During training camp, Gaines often ran with the second team, starting only as the additional corner in a nickel. Nelson has started in the base across from Marcus Peters, and in a sub-package he’s gone inside with Terrance Mitchell taking the outside.
Saturday, with Mitchell nursing an injury and unavailable, Nelson played the inside in the nickel.
What it all means for Gaines, and how right cornerback and the secondary depth chart shakes out, will be determined over the final two preseason games.
But a healthy Gaines gives the Chiefs another option.