Jamell Fleming is in only his third NFL season, but that’s long enough to know that when you get a chance to play with the first team in practice, you better make the most of it.
So you can only imagine how Fleming, a former third-round pick of the Cardinals, felt when the Chiefs’ coaches started giving him most of the reps last week in place of struggling starter Marcus Cooper.
“They told me, ‘Hey, Jamell, go out with the first team,’” Fleming recalled with a smile. “I was like, ‘All right,’ and just ran out there.”
Fleming obviously did pretty well, because a few days before the San Diego game, he was told he’d be making his fourth career NFL start in place of Cooper, who had allowed a handful of big plays before the bye week.
“Well, obviously, we just thought that we needed to,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said, when asked for the impetus for the switch. “Coop has obviously had some issues in there, but I think the other part, Fleming has practiced really well for us since he’s been here.
“We kind of said, ‘Hey, we need to see if this guy can play.’”
Not bad, considering Fleming has been a Chief for a little more than a month.
“I value (this chance) with high regard just because being a starter anywhere in the league is a privilege,” Fleming said.
In many ways, the decision to start Fleming against the Chargers last Sunday proves the Chiefs, who snagged the 5-foot-11, 206-pound Fleming off of the Ravens’ practice squad just days after the season opener, are serious about fostering competition on the roster.
That’s why general manager John Dorsey regularly cycles though the bottom of the roster, always looking for upgrades, and why Fleming played the entire game Sunday after weeks of showing out against the Chiefs’ first-team offense on the practice squad.
“Yeah, there was some unknown in it,” Sutton said. “But like I said, we saw enough to say, ‘Hey, let’s take the leap.’”
According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers targeted Fleming eight times and completed five passes his way for 40 yards.
“I knew they were going to come pick on me at the beginning of the game, especially when you walk on the field and they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s not that dude (Marcus Cooper) we were watching on film,’” Fleming said. “I kind of knew they were going to do that, so really I just came in there and tried to be confident.”
After a bit of a rough start, when the Chargers came out throwing his way in the first half, Fleming seemed to settle down. According to PFF, the longest completion his way went for 14 yards, which is important given the defense’s new onus on preventing the deep ball.
“I felt like I left some plays out there,” Fleming said. “That’s the name of the game, especially at defensive back. But all in all, I think I played well. Just make sure they don’t get any deep balls, make some tackles and that’s about it.”
Fleming said he feels a familiarity with the scheme. The Chiefs still do press-man coverage, which Fleming says he played at Oklahoma, and Fleming also noted that the Chiefs’ scheme is similar to the one used by Arizona in 2012, when he had 26 tackles and a pass deflection in 15 games (three starts).
But neither the playing time he received as a rookie nor his draft status could save him from being cut last September. The Jaguars picked him up after the season opener, but he didn’t record a stat last season. He was waived by the Jaguars in camp this year and eventually landed on the Ravens’ practice squad until the Chiefs scooped him up, where he quickly became a scout team standout.
“The key thing we talk about all the time is, if you’re working against our offense, you need to realize these are your games right now,” Sutton said. “You have to get better because in two weeks, three weeks — we were talking about this Wednesday with our players — somebody else is going to be in need. And you have to be ready, you have to prepare yourself like that and take advantage of that opportunity out there. It’s a great opportunity because you are working against an NFL offense, and it can train you for that opportunity that’s about to happen to somebody.”
Now, with his first regular-season game as a Chief under his belt, it appears Fleming will have another chance to show what he can do. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday that he anticipates Fleming getting another start Sunday vs. the Rams.
“I value (the chance) with high regard just because being a starter anywhere in the league is a privilege,” Fleming said. “I’m just glad I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity.”