The next man up at safety for the Chiefs was rookie Armani Watts.
The Chiefs’ depth at safety has been tested during training camp and it was again for the preseason opener on Thursday against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium.
All of the shuffling moved Watts into the starting role in the Chiefs’ 17-10 loss.
“I was excited to be out there, obviously,” Watts said. “I feel like I did all right. But there’s a lot of things you can fix. Just got to get back to work.”
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That’s true of the Chiefs defense, which struggled when the game counted.
After punting away its first possession, led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, Houston went 68 and 66 yards on its next two drives engineered by reserve Brandon Weeden.
The Chiefs were without several starters, including both safeties. Eric Berry is working his way back from the torn Achilles suffered in last season’s opener, and Daniel Sorensen suffered a knee injury in training camp earlier in the week that requires surgery. He is expected to miss the early part of the season.
Up the depth chart climbed Watts, the fourth-round draft selection from Texas A&M, who got off a slow start in training camp with an ankle injury.
But he made up ground and eventually was earning second-team reps.
“We have the injury there, so we’re trying guys to see who fits into that,” Coach Andy Reid said. “(Watts) is a young guy that needs reps, so we figured we’d put him in and get him as many reps as we possibly could. I thought he had some nice plays. There’s a couple things that he’d like to have back. But I thought he did some nice things there.”
Watts saw action in both halves, playing with the first- and second-team defenses and was credited with three tackles.
He grew more comfortable as the game progressed and slowed down some.
“It’s way faster,” Watts said. “Guys know what they’re doing. They’re pros, they’ve been here doing it a long time. There’s a lot of film, and guys know their opponents.”
On one play, Watts got caught in traffic and couldn’t short-circuit a screen pass that went for a 34-yard gain. On another, he blitzed Weeden but didn’t get there in time.
Watts is part of a secondary that’s been rebuilt in the offseason. Not only did the Chiefs release Ron Parker in a salary-cap move, they revamped their cornerbacks, trading Marcus Peters and losing several other corners.
Watts and Eric Murray got the start at safety on Thursday, and playing time was also available to Watts because of a hamstring injury to Leon McQuay.
Safety became a position need after the Chiefs didn’t retain Parker. Watts was the draft choice despite being undersized at 5-11. The Chiefs said they liked his energy and physical tools among other attributes.
“If you watch film on the guy, you really notice the instincts,” scout Willie Davis said after the draft. “He is not the biggest kid, but he is instinctive, he knows where to be, he knows where to put players and he’s is a tough, tough kid.”