Polishing off the defensive side of the roster, today we take a look at what is arguably the most difficult place to play in today’s NFL: no, not Arrowhead Stadium… its the Safety position.
If you’re looking for another long-form piece of writing about how Eric Berry should stop playing linebacker in our sub-packages, this is not the article for you. In fact, we’ll spend very little time on him today given he’s essentially the only proven commodity we have at Safety regardless of whether you think he’s being used properly or not.
For the first time since 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs will enter the season with a new starter at Free Safety. Drafted as complements to one another, Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis formed a relatively successful partnership over the past four years. As Berry raised his performance to the level of first team All-Pro however, Lewis’ play went into a tailspin.
John Dorsey took a few preventative measures in 2013, signing veterans Quintin Demps and Husain Abdullah to improve performance at the back of the defense.
Originally drafted by Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Demps has bounced around a bit during his seven-year career. He had a few nice moments defensively for the Chiefs in 2013 (including four INTs) but the lasting impression was on special teams where he averaged over 30 yards per kickoff return. Meanwhile, Abdullah spent much of last season getting back into “football shape” after taking the entire 2012 season off for a religious pilgrimage. He dazzled on coverage units for the Chiefs top-rated special teams and eventually earned himself enough playing time to warrant a new contract this offseason.
In case you haven’t been watching the NFL for the last half-decade, it’s become what most are calling a passing league. This has forced major adjustments for defensive coordinators like Kansas City’s Bob Sutton, especially as it relates to personnel. The typical base package in his defense has three down linemen and four linebackers (hence the 3-4 label) with two corners and two safeties making up the secondary. Entering Training Camp, the safe assumption is that Husain Abdullah with start next to Eric Berry in the base package.
Here’s where it gets complicated: the Chiefs rarely play that base package because it’s designed to defend a more traditional offense than the three and four wide receiver sets that are all the rage now. The most typical personnel adjustment you’ll see from Coach Sutton is removing a lineman and a linebacker and replacing them with a corner and a safety – this results in what we call a dime defense, which basically means six defensive backs. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but I would venture to guess the Chiefs spent more time in their dime package than their base 3-4 last year… and there are dozens of variations that Bob Sutton likes to use to keep opposing offenses on their heels. Here’s a solid piece from Arrowhead Pride that should help clarify some alignment questions you might have.
We’ve established that Berry and Abdullah are the presumed starters, but who can we expect to contribute at the third safety spot?
Thus far, the Chiefs would have us believe that Sanders Commings is that guy. Drafted in the fifth round last year out of Georgia, Commings wasn’t able to make any impact for the Chiefs as a rookie after breaking his collar bone in training camp. Apparently he’s a remarkably gifted athlete and John Dorsey was quoted this offseason as saying “he really fit the profile (of a free safety) for us” but ultimately we have no idea what this kid is capable of – especially when you consider he’s still transitioning from his college days at cornerback to playing safety at the highest level.
Perhaps a more likely candidate is Jerron McMillian, a player drafted by Green Bay in John Dorsey’s final season with the Packers. He only has two starts in his two-year NFL career, but he contributed quite a bit in sub-packages due to numerous injuries throughout their secondary.
Kansas City has a couple of undrafted safeties competing to make the team in Malcolm Bronson and Daniel Sorensen – both celebrated at their respective college programs. Bronson was highly revered at McNeese State and a likely senior bowl candidate in 2012 but a nasty knee injury ruined his final college season. He spent 2013 on the Chiefs practice squad, so he may have a bit of an advantage going into training camp this year.
Considered a star at BYU, Sorensen was the ultimate fan-favorite. He’s a bigger-bodied white kid that loves to throw his body around and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Fair warning: I like a lot of what I saw when I watched him – especially on their special teams units. I think this is a kid the Chiefs can groom defensively despite not being a premier athlete. See: Jon McGraw, who for all intents and purposes had a pretty nice NFL career.
Something the Chiefs can’t afford is taking a step backward on special teams. Guys like Abdullah (the ST Captain) and Demps were key cogs in 2013, but they’re being replaced by younger, less experienced guys this season. It remains to be seen if Abdullah can/will have the gas to be a full-time starter and a standout special teamer, so kids like Commings, McMillian, Bronson and Sorensen could seal their spots on the roster by showing they’re capable of making some plays the old fashioned way.
Don’t forget that Bob Sutton employed three safeties in nickel and dime packages all season long, making safety play equally important to that of the corners. Will he be able to adjust the looks if he thinks our fourth corner is more capable than our third safety? This is the kind of stuff that keeps coaches up at night.
One player we might need to keep a close eye on: Ron Parker. Whispers about him bouncing between corner have safety were abundant this offseason, but my guess is that depends on the performance of players at both positions… will the corners be good enough that we can afford to move him to safety?
Prediction: Chiefs keep five – Berry, Abdullah, Commings, McMillian, Sorensen
Starters: Berry and Abdullah
Special Teams: Sorensen (could be an ace)
Just one preview remains: this Tuesday I’ll talk about the specialists, which will focus on the kicking battle between Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos.
Don’t forget to check out my thoughts on the Chiefs offense: