ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Any concerns over Chiefs safety Eric Berry’s conditioning and ability to absorb contact were alleviated Sunday.
The Chiefs have taken it easy on Berry, who returned to football just eight months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, in recent padded contact drills.
But Berry participated in the arguably the most physical training camp practice through eight sessions and appeared to be his old self.
The former All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection didn’t shy from heavy contact, making a tackle on the sideline, and displayed closing speed by breaking hard from the safety position to break-up a pass on a slant pattern.
While he continues to take most of his repetitions with the second-team unit, Berry has seen time with the first-team as the Chiefs continue to ease him into action.
And that is part of the team’s plan.
“We’re really going on him and the docs and how he feels out there,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s feeling better, I think, every day. I don’t really just mean physically – I think he’s getting back into football, too. If you look back over the previous year, he missed a lot of this training camp a year ago with an Achilles and then he got knicked up again.
“He really didn’t have a lot of practice time a year ago, even in the few games he played in. I think he’s getting back, like he says, he’s seeing things better, it’s slowing down for him. It’s strictly football, this has nothing to do with what he overcame. I think he’s happy with that, and you could obviously talk to him about it. We’re going to follow his rhythm, whatever he feels like.”
The Chiefs currently list Berry as a free safety and he is second on the initial depth chart, which was released Friday, behind Husain Abdullah.
The Chiefs offered an early look of life without cornerback Sean Smith, who will serve a three-game suspension to start the season.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters lined up at left cornerback with the first-team base defense during 11-on-11 drills, while second-year pro Phillip Gaines took Smith’s spot at right cornerback.
Gaines shifted to the nickel cornerback position and Jamell Fleming took Gaines spot in the nickel defensive package. Peters, of course, stayed put on the left side.
And it’s better to tinker with personnel groupings sooner than later.
“We’re going to obviously do that,” Sutton said. “We’re not going to have Sean for those first three games, so we’ve got to get guys used to playing with each other and see what our best combination is.”
Smith saw action with the second-team defense at his usual spot, and Marcus Cooper manned the left cornerback position.
SANTOS EXTENDS RANGE?
Second-year kicker Cairo Santos had an up-and-down day, including missing a point after touchdown attempt.
But he made up for the bad by making a 64-yard field goal during the special teams portion of practice.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Santos is stronger compared to last season, but Toub didn’t commit to how far out the Chiefs would be comfortable in attempting a field goal.
“It’s too early to tell,” Toub said. “I just think he’s got a little bit stronger leg right now. It looks like he might be three, or four or five more yards than he did last year. Last year, we were comfortable at 50, but we might take him out to 53 now.”
• Safety Tyvon Branch delivered one of the biggest hits of the Sunday morning practice session during 7-on-7 drills. Tight end Richard Gordon came open down the seam and was in good position to catch a clean pass from quarterback Chase Daniel, but Branch made a beeline for Gordon and erased the play with a devastating hit to jar the ball loose.
• Emporia State product Adam Schiltz saw action with the first-team offense during three-tight end sets with Travis Kelce and rookie James O’Shaughnessy. The Chiefs are currently practicing with four healthy tight ends (Schiltz, Kelce, O’Shaughnessy and Gordon) with Ryan Taylor (quad) and Demetrius Harris (foot) not practicing.
• The physical contact was on display throughout the practice, and the offensive linemen had a chance to finally unleash. Rookie center Mitch Morse pulled to his left to seal the edge and stonewalled inside linebacker Derrick Johnson during a 9-on-7 drill, allowing running back Jamaal Charles to run in the open space. On a separate play, center Eric Kush, who ran with the second-team unit, obliterated safety Daniel Sorensen, driving the second-year defensive back into the ground.
• Wide receiver Fred Williams had a nifty one-handed catch on the right sideline on a pass from quarterback Chase Daniel.
• With outside linebacker Dee Ford (concussion) not practicing, Frank Zombo took Ford’s spot with the second-team defense and saw some action with the first team.
• Rookie inside linebacker Justin March destroyed fullback Spencer Ware at the goal line to prevent a touchdown run. Defensive tackles Hebron Fangupo and rookie Charles Tuaau got the penetration into the backfield to clear the lane for March to come up and deliver the run-stuffing blow.
• Visit ChiefsDigest.com senior editor Bob Gretz’s recap of Sunday’s practice for more observations.