When Kansas City traded Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams in the offseason and decided to completely rework their defensive backfield, they guaranteed a season of scrutiny for the Chiefs’ remaining corners.
With the season now a month away, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas have some questions to answer.
How Will the Slot Play Out?
The Chiefs offset the loss of Peters to an extent when they received Kendall Fuller as part of the Alex Smith trade. Playing for the Washington Redskins, the Virginia Tech product was one of the top slot corners in the NFL last season.
CB Kendall Fuller allowed a 55.0 passer rating when covering the slot in 2017. The LOWEST mark in the NFL this season!
(min. 150 snaps in slot coverage)
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 31, 2018
For his part, Fuller is confident that he can be just as effective playing outside.
“When I got to [Virginia] Tech, it wasn’t about slot, outside, even safety. We had to learn how to be a DB. Once we get to the NFL then they start to talk about the slot or outside. I think it’s the same skill set, it’s just a different area of the field,” Fuller told reporters at the start of training camp. “Truth be told I felt more comfortable at corner. That’s what I came in as, a corner. So, I definitely think I can step out there.”
Sutton could opt to move Fuller around to take advantage of match-ups, even if his cornerbacks coach Al Harris appears opposed to that idea. Unfortunately, one of his other top three corners, Steven Nelson, might also be better in the slot. That could mean that the Chiefs have the inside handled while remaining vulnerable on the outside.
Can David Amerson Reclaim His Form?
Fuller, of course, wasn’t the only young veteran corner that Kansas City brought in. David Amerson came over from division rival Oakland in free agency. Of course, there’s a reason that the Raiders let him walk.
The former second-round pick of Washington played in only six games last season because of a toe injury.
Amerson has been up and down throughout his career. At his best, he gave Oakland solid production after being released by the Redskins early in the 2015 season. He totaled six interceptions for the Raiders over the next two years. Even so, he wasn’t living up to the 4-year, $38-million extension that he signed in 2016.
A change of scenery brought out the best in him last time, and, at 26, he should just be hitting his prime. So far in training camp, he’s looked solid. Kansas City needs the best version of Amerson once the real games start.
How Good Is Tremon Smith?
As one of the Chiefs two sixth-round picks in April’s draft, Tremon Smith arrived with little to no expectations. He played at little Central Arkansas against FCS competition. His 40-yard-dash time at his pro day (4.38) was good enough to earn him a chance, but that’s about it.
Jump to the present. Smith has been a standout since he first hit the practice field. After one preseason game, the rookie has already solidified a roster spot thanks to his special teams play. In fact, his coach on that unit, Dave Toub, is already putting him in some fast company.
Dave Toub is really excited about 6th-round pick Tremon Smith in punt return. Says that he’s the second fastest guy on the team behind Tyreek Hill
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 29, 2018
The AFC West is not the Southland Conference, though, and Smith has a steep learning curve. With the Chiefs electing not to bring back Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines and Kenneth Acker there are opportunities for him or fellow rookies Arrion Springs and D’Montre Wade to make a move for defensive snaps.
In fact, it’s almost imperative that one of the youngsters live up to the promise that they’ve shown in camp.
It Can’t Be Worse Than 2017, Right?
That inexperience and all of the shifting parts rightfully makes fans nervous. The fact that Houston’s Brandon Weeden was able to move the ball against Kansas City’s defense in the preseason opener did nothing to assuage those fears.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the Chiefs gave up 247 passing yards a game last season, good for 29th in the league. It isn’t as though this year’s defense has a ton to live up to. Just being competent would be a good start.
There just isn’t much wiggle room for Kansas City. The first half of their schedule features Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady, any of whom can make a defense look foolish. Add in newest fantasy darling Jimmy Garappolo, plus a potentially stronger Denver attack with Case Keenum and there are plenty of minefields before Halloween rolls around.
Sutton better hope that answers begin appearing sooner rather than later.