With players falling all over (Berry, again?), Chiefs’ depth is being sorely tested
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — #OhCrap.
It’s a beautiful day, so let’s lead off with the good news. Namely, that it’s July, and the Kansas City Chiefs don’t have to line up and play a tilt for a week.
Also, if you had the foursome of Sean Smith/Ron Parker/Husain Abdullah/Daniel Sorensen in your 2014 Secondary Superfecta, get thee to the nearest mutuel window.
And … um, well, that’s it.
When the smoke cleared from Missouri Western State late Thursday morning, this was the fallout:
— Safety Eric Berry left on a cart with an ankle problem.
— Cornerback Marcus Cooper left on a cart with a hamstring issue.
— Safety/corner/enigma Sanders Commings is going on the shelf (again) because of surgery after tailback Jamaal Charles literally broke his ankle on a move during Wednesday morning’s practice.
"It’s not an Achilles tear or anything like that," coach Andy Reid said of Berry, the two-time Pro Bowler and anchor of the defensive backfield, after practice ended. "They’re evaluating him."
In the immortal words of Chip Diller, remain calm. All is well!
Which brings us to the question of the day:
Occupational hazard? Or unnecessary risk?
Some coaches don’t like a lot of contact in training camp, the bullet points above being a central reason why. Reid does. He doesn’t apologize for it.
"That’s what we do," the Chiefs’ coach said last month after minicamp broke. "We prep for that all year to get ourselves ready for the season. It’s worked. I’ve kept doing that over the years.
"It allows you to tackle; that’s a big part of it. Then there is a certain way that you protect your body when you are being tackled. I think that’s important that you learn both of those things. That’s why we do that."
Again, the resume speaks for itself. A solid 141 NFL wins and 10 playoff berths over 15 seasons, 14 of them in Philly, a market that suffers neither civility nor fools.
It’s a fine line, one that often winds up blurred. Games in the NFL are not determined by who grabs the most Velcro flags. Victories by violence and pain often result in violent, painful collateral damage. Fans want the toughest cats in the whole damn town, a team of bad, bad Leroy Browns — but at what cost?
As has been discussed before, the Chiefs were remarkably healthy/lucky/prepared last fall, at least relative to their peers. FootballOutsiders.com keeps a statistic on its site for adjusted games lost (AGL), which tracks the quality of the players absent with injuries more so than the quantity. The Andy Gang was the NFL’s best AGL team — having weathered the least time lost by key players — in 2013. Kansas City ranked first in the NFL in 2010, too. Two healthy clubs. Two playoff teams. Coincidence? Not on your life.
Historically, Reid is no ogre. According to FootballOutsiders, his Eagles teams were among the NFL’s top 12 healthiest clubs three times over his last five seasons in Philly, with an average AGL rank of 14.4 over that span.
But it’s a fluky thing, health. Maybe the flukiest. You can prepare all you like, coddle and stretch until you feel like a giant Gumby doll, and it might not mean a lick. When that train is a-comin’, that train is a-comin’, and it’s got your freaking name on it.
Maybe the answer is selective discretion, selective contact, selective rest, although that seems counterproductive — never mind counterintuitive — for defenders who’ve been tasked to go out and throw their bodies around like hammers for three hours every Sunday.
Still, every player, ever circumstance, is unique. Berry also dislocated his finger last Saturday, and his particular hammer also happens to be one of the most precious in Bob Sutton’s magic toolbox.
In the NFL, the mantra is next man in, that no one player is irreplaceable. Which sounds like a nice, sturdy branch to stand on during contract negotiations, but when that non-irreplaceable dude is the only sure thing in your secondary, in a division that features Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers and a fight card that brings Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger to the party, look out below.
Lots of hitting and contact is cool and all, but lots of hitting and contact means you better have a damn good set of backups, too. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ Plan B at safety is Commings, so that’s out. Plan C is Sorensen, an undrafted rookie out of BYU; Jerron McMillian, a 2012 Packers draft pick who played his way out of a starting job in Green Bay; or Malcolm Bronson, a collegiate free agent from McNeese State. It’s July, and the Chiefs’ thinnest defensive position is getting skinnier by the day.
"It happens," Reid told reporters Thursday. "It happens as you go through camp: Your legs get tired. You get those camp strings, those tight hamstrings. We’ll be fine. You push through it."
Chris Owens, the floor is yours. Don’t trip on it.