KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs’ defensive secondary compared to last summer has a different look heading into training camp in late July. Gone from the 2013 defense are cornerback Brandon Flowers, and safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps.
While the free safety position is covered with Husain Abdullah and Sanders Commings, questions loom at cornerback in light of Flowers’ release on June 13.
But the roster changes haven’t affected how cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker focus on daily preparations.
“Every day I come out here as if I was the starter,” Cooper said. “I can’t say that it’s a different feeling or it’s not. Whether Brandon was here or wasn’t here, I still would compete as if I was going for the starting job. There’s no big difference.”
“I always think I’ll be able to compete for that spot,” Parker said, “but the personnel has been changing. I’m just doing whatever the coaches ask me to do. Whatever they’re asking me to do, I just try to do it to the best of my abilities.”
Cooper, a second-year pro, and Parker, a fourth-year pro, spent time with the first-team defense during organized team activities (OTAs) and the recently concluded three-day minicamp.
The 6-2, 192-pound Cooper originally filled in at left cornerback before moving to right cornerback the last week of OTAs, which was Sean Smith’s position in 2013. Smith mostly worked with the second team following his June 9 arrest for an alleged DUI, and he missed minicamp with an illness.
With Cooper on the right side, Parker filled in on the left side.
“I haven’t had so much opportunity like this to get with the ones,” Parker said. “But a little bit last year, I got a little bit of work with the ones. And then with my last game playing in San Diego starting, I felt like that was a little bit of work, too. I’m getting used to it and I’m adjusting really well.”
Parker, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 1, 2013, entered the league out Newberry College in 2011 as an undrafted free agent with Seattle.
The 6-0, 206-pound Parker spent time with Seattle and the Oakland Raiders in 2011, and the Carolina Panthers and Seahawks in 2012 before joining the Chiefs, appearing in 16 regular season games on special teams and six on defense.
Cooper, claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 1 2013, appeared in 16 regular season games with six starts. He entered the league out of Rutgers as a 2013 seventh-round pick of San Francisco before the 49ers let him go after training camp.
On the regular season for the Chiefs, Cooper notched 41 tackles (38 solo), three interceptions, 20 passes defensed, one forced fumble and a special teams fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Still, conventional wisdom would have Smith with the first team when the team kicks off training camp on July 24. However, coach Andy Reid didn’t commit to that scenario when asked about it during his post-minicamp media session.
“We will see,” Reid said. “There’s competition there and we’ll see how all that works. The other kids did a nice job. (Marcus Cooper) Coop was working in there and did a nice job. Parker did a nice job in the other corner. There’s competition at those positions.”
Reid adds Cooper, 24, and Parker, who turns 27 in August, still have room to grow.
But the head coach liked what he saw in 2013 out of Parker, who recorded two interceptions, forced a fumble and recovered three fumbles (one on special teams). Parker’s signature play occurred in Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys when he recorded a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on quarterback Tony Romo.
“Ron is a tough kid that’s going to challenge every play and that’s the thing that jumps at you,” Reid said. “We saw that last year when he was in the game, he made plays. It seemed like the ball went his way. He forced turnovers when he had opportunities last year. That’s a plus.”
A converted college free safety, Parker also brings versatility to the secondary. And the shift to cornerback apparently hasn’t been hard since he entered the league.
“The transition has been really cool for me because I played a little bit of corner in high school and I always wanted to go back,” Parker said. “When I got to the league, they switched my position to corner. I’ve been adjusting really well and doing really well at it. So I think I’m pretty good over there on the outside, too.”
Of course, whether Cooper and Parker continue to receive first-team repetitions or Smith returns to his normal position in training camp remains to be seen.
But the Chiefs will likely look to get the cornerback position settled sooner than later when considering the team is coming off a season ranked 25th against the pass (247.6 yards allowed per game).
Having the solution in place during the early stages of training camp would allow the defense a month to gel before the start of the regular season. And that could be a factor when knowing the team faces Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in Week 2 and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Week 4.
In the meantime, look for the Chiefs secondary to concentrate on what they can control until that plan is implemented.
“We’ve got a good group of guys here,” Cooper said. “I’m sorry for the guys that have departed. We wish them the best, but we can’t look at what they’re doing. We have to focus on us and continue to get better as a group.”