So as you’re taking mental notes from Friday’s Week 3 preseason contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans, save some space on the pad for No. 22’s evening as well. Yes, it’s August, and Yes, it’s the Titans, but with projected starters unlikely to play (or even dress) across the league in Week 4, it’s as good a look at the outline of the real thing until the real thing — and the real thing is more than two weeks away yet.
By most accounts, Peters, the Chiefs’ rookie cornerback and first-round pick out of the University of Washington, has the stones to be the real thing, too.
The ex-Huskies star keeps drawing raves for his ballhawking skills in practice, a carry-over from the flashes offered up in the spring. What scouts loved about the Oakland native’s game as a collegian — some thought he might be the best pure cornerback prospect available in the draft pool — has looked on the money so far: A magnet that relishes 1-on-1 coverage, the isolation and contact inherent in the position, a money blend of preparation, recognition, quickness, timing and physicality.
All of which will be tested in shorter order next month, with Peyton Manning and Denver slated for September 17 and Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay on the docket for September 28. Veteran cornerback Sean Smith is stuck in the NFL’s substance-abuse policy doghouse through the Chiefs’ first three tilts, which means a healthy Peters isn’t just being set up to play — he’s being set up to play a lot, right out of the chute.
“We all can watch him on college tape, but you’re never really sure how he’s going to adapt in here,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton told reporters earlier this week when asked about Peters’ progress.
“You’re not really sure how he’s going to respond when things don’t go well. And that’s always one of the real challenges, I think, for a young guy. If you have that tough mentality, that toughness with you, that mental toughness — I think it allows you to function a little bit better because anybody that’s making this transition from college to pro is going to have some rough days.”
It’s inevitable: When the lights go on, you’re going to get beat. Badly. By the best.
“Sometimes the ball isn’t completed,” Sutton continued. “Sometimes the ball is thrown the other way, but you (say to yourself), ‘Oh man, I didn’t do this right, and I would have been in big trouble here.’ Obviously, in camp, you have a zillion reps and one of those, you’re going to get beat on. I think he’s experienced that and he’s learned (that), ‘Hey, I have got to play every play, finish every play.’”
Sutton knows: With first-year defensive backs, it’s a process. A roller-coaster. ProFootballFocus.com graded Peters with a +0.1 on just 10 snaps in Arizona, and a -0.5 (-0.6 on pass coverage) on 28 snaps last Friday versus the Seahawks. PFF’s Kevin Connaghan termed it a “mixed outing,” noting that the rookie was out of position on an corner route to Jermaine Kearse early on, but later closed quickly to notch a key pass break-up. Few beasts swing momentum on the NFL stage the way turnovers can; the Chiefs managed just six interceptions last fall after notching 21 the season before.
“He’s what we’ve been missing back there,” defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas told reporters earlier this month.
Peters isn’t just “handsy” — in a good way — he’s especially handsy in close quarters, such as red-zone scenarios in which jump balls and quick slants are all the rage. More than halfway through the exhibition slate, this much is clear: If there’s a ball in air, No. 22 will fight like crazy for it. Or go down swinging.
Photos: Courtesy of Mark J. Rebllas USA Today Sports Images
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