KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs rookie Daniel Sorensen drew the start at strong safety in place of Eric Berry during Thursday night’s preseason 41-39 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Chiefs rested Berry, who did not dress after recently returning from a right heel injury. Seeing Berry not playing wasn’t shocking, as the Chiefs won’t expose the All-Pro to a setback if not required in preseason action.
But Sorensen getting the nod over Jerron McMillian or Steve Gregory may have surprised. That is, to everybody but the former Brigham Young University star.
“They told us if Eric Berry wasn’t going to go then I would step up,” Sorensen said. “I had an idea.”
The 24-year-old Sorensen, whom the Chiefs signed as an undrafted free agent, has enjoyed a strong training camp, capped Monday with two interceptions and a pass breakup during team-drills.
He’s displayed exceptional ball-hawking skills throughout the offseason.
But the native of Colton, Calif., isn’t satisfied considering there’s a goal yet to be attained with six training camp practices and three preseason games remaining.
“I’m just trying to make this team,” Sorensen said. “I’m doing everything that I can on special teams and defense to make myself valuable to this team. That’s my goal. Make myself as valuable as I can, contribute any way I can and make an argument to be on this team.”
Sorensen finished the game with one tackle, arguably a touchdown-saving tackle to stop Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who beat cornerback Ron Parker for a 53-yard reception.
Gaines makes plays
Rookie cornerback Phillip Gaines, the Chiefs’ third-round pick, saw action at left cornerback with the second-team defense and contributed on special teams.
“It was fun,” Gaines said. “It was definitely a learning experience on things I can get better on as the preseason progresses. Overall, it was good to get my feet wet and do some things for the team that led to a win.”
Gaines said he wants to focus on building consistency on his technique.
“As a cornerback,” he said, “you have to be ready to play in and play out. If you waver from that, that’s when you get beat. Moving forward, I’m going to really continue to better my craft.”
The former Rice Owl showed his ability on a second-quarter play when he locked up against speedy Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate.
Gaines stayed step-for-step with Tate down the right sideline near the goal line, before turning and knocking a pass away inside the 10-yard line.
“It was an outside release,” Gaines explained. “He has some pretty good speed and I had a pretty good jam on him. I just turned back and found the ball because I was in good position and made a play on the ball.”
Tate may have gotten away with a push to Gaines’ back to save an interception.
“Receivers and corners are pushing and fighting the whole way up the field,” Gaines said. “As long as it’s not defensive pass interference, then I’m all right.”
Still, it appeared as Gaines would’ve had the pick.
“You can never tell,” Gaines said with a big grin, which was promptly followed by a laugh.
Gaines finished with two tackles, two passes defensed and a special teams tackle.
The hidden play
Rookie De’Anthony Thomas electrified Arrowhead Stadium with an 80-yard punt return.
But the play forcing the Bengals to punt shouldn’t go unrecognized.
The Bengals were in an obvious passing situation facing a third-and-16 at its own 37-yard line. Quarterback Jason Campbell threw a short pass to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who appeared to have a wall of blockers setting up in front of him and plenty of room to operate.
Inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson recognized the play and shot between the blockers to blow up Green-Ellis just as the pass arrived to knock it loose for an incompletion.
The rest is history, as Thomas scored on the next play.
Johnson finished the game as the Chiefs leading tackler with eight solo tackles in addition to the pass defensed.
Smith shows leadership
Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers defeated left tackle Eric Fisher early in the first quarter to record a sack and forced fumble on quarterback Alex Smith.
Fisher appeared to get beaten badly, but Smith downplayed it and took responsibility.
“I know it goes down as a sack-fumble,” Smith said, “but really there’s quite a bit I can do there to get rid of the ball. It’s a quick game. Three-step drop, the ball has got to come out. The linemen as well as the receivers all have a time clock.”
For the most part, Smith said he believed the overall play was good from a first-team offensive line that also featured rookie Zach Fulton at right guard.
“Protection was good all night,” he said. “I thought we ran the ball well.”
As for trusting the men responsible for keeping him upright, Smith said it’s important to believe in them once the team is on the field.
“You can’t play quarterback second guessing those guys up front at all,” Smith said. “It would be a long day.”
A second love
A glance through tight end Travis Kelce’s timeline on Twitter shows he clearly loves playing football. The other discovery on his timeline surrounds his love of basketball.
When it comes to the NBA, there’s only one team the native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, truly roots for. And the Cleveland Cavaliers bringing NBA superstar LeBron James struck home for the second-year tight end.
“Oh man,” Kelce said. “I love it. I love it. I’ve always been a LeBron fan. I didn’t necessarily follow him when he went to Miami, but I respected the decision he made. I’m Cavs until the day I die. It’s going to be a pretty exciting year in terms with that and the speculation of (Minnesota Timberwolves power forward/center) Kevin Love coming.”
While Kelce has a deep love for the Cavaliers and looks forward to seeing James play, there’s one area taking priority.
“First things first,” Kelce said. “I have to get these Kansas City Chiefs rolling.”
Kelce, who returns from microfracture knee surgery last season, accomplished part of the goal with a 69-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
NOTES: Kicker Ryan Succop went 1-of-1 on field goal attempts, hitting from 27 yards, and 3-of-3 on PATs … Rookie kicker Cairo Santos was also perfect on the night, going 1-of-1 after hitting from 28 yards and 2-of-2 on PATs … PATs were spotted at the 20-yard line to make PATs a 33-yard attempt as part of the NFL’s experimentation for the first two weeks of the preseason … Running back Cyrus Gray led the Chiefs in rushing, recording 55 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries … Defensive tackle Jaye Howard turned in a strong performance with four total tackles (three solo) and a sack … The Chiefs are rolling out something new on Sept. 5 for Red Friday. Fans this year will have the option of donating $4 to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City to obtain a limited edition “Chiefs Kingdom” flag, which measures 2×3 feet. Flags may be acquired at area McDonald’s locations or on street corners throughout the Kansas City area on the morning of Friday, Sept. 5. Fans are encouraged to attend the Red Friday pep rally at Union Station that evening as well.