Kurt Coleman swears he wasn’t necessarily trying to light the receiver up. Honest.
But it is telling, in way, that when asked about his massive third-quarter lick on Arizona’s John Brown during the Chiefs’ 17-14 loss on Dec. 7, Coleman couldn’t help but nod and grin.
“The funniest thing about that play — I was actually going for the football,” Coleman said. “If you look at it in slow mo, I saw him but I was trying to beat him to the spot.”
That’s not to say Coleman wasn’t happy with the result. In one fell swoop, he scored an incompletion and a message sent, as he punctuated the hit with a Sean Taylor-esque follow through, of sorts, over the hapless Brown, who had to leave the game.
“It’s almost like when you hit a sweet spot on the baseball bat,” Coleman said. “You don’t really feel it — you’re almost hitting through a person, not at a person.”
Coleman only stands 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds, but the 26-year-old safety has a reputation as an aggressive, hard hitter, one he reinforced this season as the Chiefs’ fourth safety.
“I want to let everyone know I’m there, and I’m not there to play around,” Coleman said. “Obviously, you can’t always take that shot; you have to be a smart player. But I’ll say this; I never go out there to hurt anybody, but I try to hit as hard as I can.”
Coleman, a pending free agent, also contributed on special teams, racked up 37 tackles, six pass deflections and a team-high three interceptions, despite playing only 396 of 1,086 possible defensive snaps in a reserve role. What’s more, his Pro Football Focus grade of plus-4.6 ranked 26th among 87 qualifying safeties.
It was, to be sure, a bit of a redemptive year for Coleman, who averaged 85 tackles, 4 1/2 deflections and three interceptions as a starter in Philadelphia in 2011 and 2012 for Chiefs coach Andy Reid. However, he also battled injuries in 2012, and his play suffered. His Pro Football Focus grade of negative-15.5 ranked 85th among 88 safeties who logged at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.
The next year, Coleman saw his number of defensive snaps drop from 905 to 74 under new coach Chip Kelly. He logged 14 tackles in 15 games (zero starts) before signing with the Vikings as a free agent in April. But he never really caught on there, and was released during the last round of preseason roster cuts before he was snapped up by the Chiefs in early September.
“Honestly, I’ve been around the NFL long enough to know it’s all about your opportunity,” Coleman said. “When it’s given to you, you’ve got to be able to capitalize. And sometimes, when you have coaching changes, you can’t control that.”
But with the Chiefs, Coleman thrived with a lighter workload behind starters Husain Abdullah, Eric Berry and Ron Parker. He was sore by the end of the season, but nowhere near as beat up as he was his last year as a starter, when he tore some cartilage in his chest and ribs.
“This has been a great rebirth for me, to come to coaches and a team that’s appreciative of me,” Coleman said. “Schematically, it’s a DB-friendly scheme. Whenever you can give a lot of different looks to a quarterback and confuse them, it automatically benefits everyone on the defense.”
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey agreed, noting Coleman — who was signed during training camp — was one of several under-the-radar players who wound up contributing to the Chiefs’ No. 2-ranked pass defense, one that did not allow a single 300-yard game all season.
“What I applaud is the coaches playing to the strengths of the players and putting them into position to take advantage,” Dorsey said. “I thought the defense, week in and week out, consistently played at an extremely high level.”
Dorsey and the Chiefs’ defensive staff has shown a knack for finding cheap contributors in the secondary; last year, Quintin Demps had a career year in a role similar to Coleman’s, and ended up signing a one-year deal worth $1 million with the New York Giants.
However, it seems unlikely Coleman comes that cheap; he has 26 more starts under his belt than Demps (six) did when he signed with the Giants, and his PFF grade is significantly higher than Demps’ was (negative-4.8) last year.
That said, Coleman is expected to initially ask for a contract that hovers around the $1.5 million to $2 million per year range, which could be doable if the Chiefs fail to get anything done with Parker, another pending free agent who is seeking significantly more money.
Coleman, however, could also be wooed by a chance to compete for a starting job, should such an opportunity arise.
“I know I can still do that,” Coleman said.
“Obviously, I want to be able to play in an expanded role … but I love being able to come in and make plays when I do get the call.”
Coleman then added that he hopes that he can continue to do so in Kansas City, with a organization and a coaching staff that proved to be a nice fit for him.
“God has continued to just open doors for me,” Coleman said. “I’m thankful for the Chiefs picking me up this year and allowing me to play in this way. I had a lot of fun with these guys. This is a great locker room.
“I’m appreciative of this opportunity and I hope I can remain a Chief. We’ll see what happens this offseason.”