KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs are without Sean Smith to start the season while the starting right cornerback serves a three-game suspension.
But the play of young cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and rookie Marcus Peters softens the blow and offers encouragement the pass defense should be OK during Smith’s absence.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Tuesday. “Again, we’ve rolled a lot of guys through there and looked at different combinations of guys. I think all of them have performed pretty good and I think we feel pretty good about where we’re at, at corner.”
To help prepare for Smith’s suspension, the Chiefs began shifting Gaines in at right cornerback and Peters at left cornerback midway through training camp. Gaines moves inside with Jamell Fleming in Gaines’ spot in the nickel package, while Peters says on the left side of the formation.
Peters, in particular, has Sutton’s attention.
The Chiefs’ first-round pick (18th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft consistently made plays during training camp, and has a nose for the football during team-related drills, where Peters displays a propensity to record interceptions.
But it is Peters’ mental toughness to deal with adversity, especially the ability to rebound after giving up a play, that Sutton complimented the most.
“The biggest challenge any young guy has is that laser focus, play after play after play,” Sutton said. “It has to happen first in practice and then it’s got to occur in the game, and I think he’s done a really good job. He’s improved at some of the things we’re trying to get him to work on, and as long as he takes that kind of attitude, he’s got a big upside, I think, to him.”
The Chiefs have other options to consider leading to roster cuts and to provide depth throughout Smith’s suspension, including Marcus Cooper and rookie Steven Nelson, among others.
But in the meantime, Sutton appears pleased with what the team developed in recent weeks to prepare for three games without Smith.
“Obviously, you’d like to have all your players,” Sutton said, “but for whatever reasons that are out there, you don’t always have them. This time, we know we’re not going to have Sean, so we’ve just got to get these other guys ready. I think if they keep working hard here, we’re going to be fine.”
TUAAU SHIFTS TO OFFENSE
The Chiefs offensive line has gone through rotations without left tackle Eric Fisher (ankle), guard/tackle Jeff Aleen (knee) and tackle Tavon Rooks, who is currently dealing with an unknown medical condition.
With depth an issue, the Chiefs took steps to bolster the unit by shifting rookie defensive tackle Charles Tuaau to the offensive line, where he had his first practice at that spot Monday.
“It’s a situation where you take guys and you try to see what they can do on either side of the football,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said Tuesday. “You take a receiver and make him a DB or take a DB and make him a receiver. We’ve done that throughout the course of the year. You’re supposed to do that with practice squad players, we’ve done that in the past so again, it’s an evaluation process and we’ll give them more as these days unfold.”
While it remains to be seen if the change of positions is permanent, the 6-5, 310-pound Tuaau certainly fills the need for a big, athletic body along the front five.
“He’s big, he’s physical, he’s powerful and he fits your offensive line mold,” Pederson said. “Right now he’s learning, so we’ve just got to bring him along slowly and see what he can do once he gets in there on live action.”
LONG SNAPPER UPDATE
The Chiefs aren’t any closer to deciding a long snapper between James Winchester and rookie Andrew East with two preseason games in the books.
“It’s hard to believe, but both of these guys are very good,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Tuesday. “They both made tackles in the game. It’s amazing how the competition has been really good. I think both of those guys are NFL snappers, NFL-quality guys. Really, it’s a good problem to have for us because we’re going to get the best guy, what we feel is the best guy.”
Winchester and East each played four snaps in the preseason opener. The second preseason contest saw East participate on six snaps, while Winchester played on three snaps.
Regardless how it shakes out between the two players with two preseason games remaining on the schedule, Toub is confident one of them will be the starter in the first regular season game.
“I think they’re performing at a high level,” Toub said. “They’re snapping great, they’re covering great. (Punter) Dustin (Colquitt) has nothing but good things to say about both guys. We’ll pick the correct guy.”