Safety Daniel Sorensen started every preseason game for the Chiefs last season, filling in for Eric Berry while Berry nursed a heel injury.
When the regular-season opener arrived, there was Sorensen, a member of the 53-man roster. Heady stuff for an undrafted free-agent rookie from Brigham Young.
But as the opener unfolded, Sorensen remembered thinking he was playing a different game.
“When I made the roster and we were preparing to play the opener, it was like, ‘This shouldn’t be any different,’ ” Sorensen said. “But you get into a real game, against starters and a game plan, and it does change. It was a wake-up call for me.”
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After the Chiefs’ loss to Tennessee, Sorensen was dropped to the practice squad. He returned around midseason, played in the Chiefs’ final eight games, and is battling for a spot on this year’s team as a defensive back and on special teams.
“He’s the kind of guy who can really make a difference on a football team,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “A valuable guy who can play a lot of positions and roles.”
That versatility is why the Chiefs didn’t give up on Sorensen after last season’s opener, when he committed a couple of mistakes. On the first, he served as a lead blocker on a fake punt but failed to get through the hole quickly enough and damaged the Chiefs’ chances of getting a first down.
On the second, he jumped offside on a punt in Chiefs territory. The 5-yard penalty pushed the Titans into field-goal range and they expanded their lead.
“I made some rookie mistakes,” Sorensen said. “They were welcome-to-the-NFL type moments that I didn’t have in the preseason.”
Sorensen used the demotion to the practice squad as an opportunity to recalibrate.
“It allowed me to take a step back and focus on getting stronger, getting smarter and grow up a little bit,” Sorensen said. “I wanted to be ready if I got called up again.”
The Chiefs brought him back, and the game slowed down for Sorensen, just as camp has the second time around.
A year ago, Sorensen, had to battle rookie-itis, making sure he was on time for meetings, knowing where to be, how things worked.
“It was like a test, and you had to beat the test every day,” Sorensen said. “Even with the playbook. Last year, you get on the field, you’re worried you’re making the right call. This year, I’m more comfortable with the playbook, and that helps you focus more on the work you do on the field.”
It shows. Sorensen has been his usual energetic self, flying around on defense, making his presence known.
“He’s a very instinctive guy, with really good ball skills,” Sutton said. “He’s got those natural instincts you like, and he’s getting more confident in himself.”
Sorensen is listed behind Husain Abdullah and Berry at free safety on the team’s first depth chart heading into Saturday’s preseason opener at Arizona. Special-teams coach Dave Toub said Sorensen was starting at punt protector, a position that opened when the Chiefs cut Cyrus Gray.
“They have to be smart, and they have to be able to read what the front is, someone who is a good blocker and someone who is good on their feet,” Toub said. “(Sorensen) does such an outstanding job.”
Sorensen knows there are no guarantees, just an opportunity.
“If you focus on numbers or other people, or start comparing yourself to how others are doing, that’s how you get lost,” Sorensen said. “Really, what it comes down is to work on your weaknesses and try to strengthen what you’re good at.”