KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The defensive scheme remains familiar to Jamell Fleming, but he currently possesses a different perspective.
Fleming no longer views the field as a cornerback, whose primary responsibility often surrounds covering the player in front of him.
Instead, the 5-11, 206-pound Fleming recently converted to safety and must now ensure defensive teammates around him are aware of what could happen on offense before the snap.
“It’s different because now I got to talk, communicate more,” Fleming said. “At corner, you don’t have to say anything – you’re just locked up on your man and you got him all around the field – but safety is communicating, seeing stuff before it happens.”
The fifth-year pro said the decision to move to safety occurred when he and the Chiefs coaching staff had discussions before he elected to return to Kansas City on a one-year deal in March.
The position swap proved a move Fleming accepted with open arms.
“I wanted that,” he said. “I’m happy to move to safety.”
The 27-year-old Fleming entered the league in 2012 out of Oklahoma as a third-round pick with the Arizona Cardinals. He played cornerback the previous four seasons, including two with the Chiefs after being signed off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in 2014.
Fleming has appeared in 23 games with four starts in a Chiefs uniform, totaling 40 tackles (37 solo), eight passes defensed and a fumble recovery the past two years.
While Fleming said the position switch from cornerback has gone well during organized team activities (OTAs), he understands there is still plenty of room to improve, especially when it comes to seeing the whole field.
“I have to have better vision,” Fleming said. “That’s probably the biggest transition, just the calling out stuff, being verbal and using my eyes better.”
Fleming, of course, isn’t alone as he adjusts to a new position.
Defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas and secondary coach/cornerbacks coach Al Harris know Fleming’s capabilities and both coaches aren’t shy about explaining plays to the new safety.
“Oh yeah, they’re in my ear all the time,” Fleming said with a chuckle.
Harris said Fleming’s transition is going well through five days of OTAs, but pointed out the learning curve from cornerback to safety is unique.
And the secondary coach’s purpose of offering constructive criticism to Fleming after every play on the practice field serves a purpose to get players ready for the regular season.
“My whole theory is to hover over them and you yell, you scream, you make a point on every single play,” Harris said. “That way, once it’s game time you don’t have a whole lot of talking to do because they know what they’ve done wrong. I tell them in our room that all the cussing and fussing will be done during the week – Sundays is their time.”
Meanwhile, Fleming also doesn’t have to search far on how to play his new position, especially when considering there are two established players on the Chiefs roster: Ron Parker and two-time All-Pro selection Eric Berry
“Of course, I watch all their film at safety,” Fleming said. “Really, probably at least 90 percent of it is mostly them. It’s cool just being able to watch them and especially with Eric, his story and making exciting plays at safety is awesome.”
Obtaining advice outside of watching film also isn’t difficult, as Parker is more than happy to offer a helping hand to his teammate.
“If he sees something out there he’s having a problem with, he gets me right after the film session and he’ll pick my brain a little bit,” Parker said. “Our lockers are almost right next to each other, too, so in the locker room if he has any questions, he just comes up to me and asks me right there and I go over it with him right then.”
From coaches to teammates, Fleming has all the help he will ever need as he transitions to safety.
He stops short, however, on giving himself a grade on his progress, pointing out the Chiefs are still early in the offseason workouts.
Fleming said his status should be considered an “incomplete” while he continues to adjust to the mental aspect of the position. But the team’s newest safety believes he possesses the physical attributes and looks forward to putting a finished product on the field to contribute.
“I think I have a good skill set at safety,” Fleming said. “I like to tackle, come up on the run and it’s cool I get to try something different. And you can also be a playmaker; there are just so many avenues at safety, big things that you can do.”