KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Rookies face enough of a challenging proving themselves to coaches, but Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Murray adds to the degree of difficulty as he moves from the role of college cornerback to NFL safety.
“That’s a daily challenge for me everyday because I’m new,” Murray said of proving to coaches he knows his new position well enough to play.
Murray joins a Chiefs defensive secondary in flux with the absence of Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and the departures of veterans Hussain Abdullah to retirement and Tyvon Branch via free agency. Returning starting free safety Ron Parker and backup strong safety Daniel Sorensen bring stability, but the Chiefs hope Murray provides additional depth and flexibility.
The conversion from corner to safety is not as easy as it may sound.
“It’s a huge adjustment,” Murray said.
“At corner you can really kind of focus on yourself and what you got to do, but at safety you got to really have to focus on other people and get other people lined up,” Murray explained.
So far the transition seems positive for Murray and the Chiefs. The rookie started against the Los Angeles Rams in the team’s preseason game on Saturday, playing a team-high 35 plays on defense.
Defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas said last week he’s pleased with Murray’s play so far.
“I think he’s going to be able to play there if he stays healthy,” Thomas said. “I’ve been really impressed with him.”
Murray frequently plays in the team’s nickel and dime defenses, coming in as an added defense back with Parker at free safety and Sorensen in the box alongside the linebackers.
He believes his man-to-man coverage skills learned in the Big Ten at Minnesota have helped him adjust to his new position.
“I think that’s what helps me the most,” Murray said. “At safety it’s a lot more reading, at corner it’s a lot more read and react right now.”
The Chiefs have a penchant for cornerbacks-turned-safeties. Starting safety Ron Parker played corner in college and earlier in his NFL career before the Chiefs converted him to safety. Marcus Cooper and Jamell Fleming have also been tested a safety during training camp and offseason workouts.
Murray said Parker has played a big role in helping him make the move.
“I have a lot of communication with Ron simply because he’s played multiple positions and for the fact he knows the defense really well,” Murray said. “He’s been a big help.”
Parker is the de facto leader of the team’s secondary in the absence of Berry, who has yet to report to the team after failing to come to terms on a new long-term contract. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Berry in the offseason, meaning if and when he plays it will be under a one-year, $10.8 million contract tender.
Cornerback Marcus Peters said Parker helps fill the void left by Berry.
“We miss his leadership, but Ron has been stepping up awesomely,” Peters said.
Parker, Sorensen and Murray are locks to make the final 53-man roster if healthy, as is Berry when he rejoins the team. The team released veteran safety Stevie Brown Wednesday.
That leaves Fleming along with rookie free agent Shakiel Randolph and veteran free agents Jeron Johnson and Brock Vereen on the team’s depth chart competing for the final roster slots.
As for Murray, he’s had highs and lows, but he continues to push himself to tackle his new job.
“There’s some days where it clicks and then there’s other days where I feel like I have setbacks,” Murray said. “I never want those days, but they happen.”