KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith hit the practice field Wednesday with his teammates for the first time since the preseason.
Smith missed the first three games of the regular season while serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.
“It’s been three long weeks,” Smith said. “Can’t wait to get out there with the guys.”
His return, however, arrives as the Chiefs placed second-year cornerback Phillip Gaines on injured reserve with a torn ACL suffered in Week 3’s contest against the Green Bay Packers.
“Phil was definitely unfortunate,” Smith said. “I’m still waiting to see what’s going on with that. At the same time, I couldn’t wait for these days to count down, and that clock to strike zero, zero, zero. I’m out here, I’m full-go, can’t wait to get on the field.”
The Chiefs likely feel the same way after seeing the pass defense slip from being ranked second against the pass in 2014 to its current status as the NFL’s 28th ranked unit (287 yards per game) through three games. The pass defense has also allowed a league-high 10 touchdown passes on the season.
Count strong safety Ron Parker among those in the locker room happy to see Smith return to the lineup.
“It helps us a lot on the back end to have Sean Smith back,” Parker said. “He’s a great leader to the group. He knows a lot of football. He’s been in the league for a good number of years, so he has seen a lot. With having him back, it’s a big help in our secondary.”
During his three-game suspension, Smith was allowed to attend team meetings and train at the team’s training facility. He was not allowed to practice, however.
Smith said he used the time away from working out on the field with teammates to stay busy and in shape.
“I was able to come here, work out and go to meetings and things like that,” Smith said. “Make sure I’m physically able to go out there and perform. And at the same time, I have to keep the guys sharp mentally, especially the young guys.”
Without the 6-3, 218-pound Smith in the lineup, the Chiefs come off a game where Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw five touchdowns.
Rodgers also totaled 333 yards passing, marking the first time the Chiefs have allowed a 300-yard passer in the regular season since Week 13 of the 2013 season when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning tossed 403 yards.
The Chiefs used Gaines and rookie Marcus Peters as the starting outside cornerbacks during Smith’s absence, then moved Gaines inside in the nickel package with Jamell Fleming on the outside the first two games.
Marcus Cooper replaced Fleming in the nickel package against the Packers, while safety Tyvon Branch took Gaines’ place after the injury.
Smith is expected to resume his starting role at right cornerback with Peters on the opposite side. While the Chiefs will need to identify a nickel cornerback, Parker is confident the pass defense can once again be a source of strength for the team.
“We just need to go uphill from here as a secondary,” Parker said. “We got all our parts back and we know what’s what now.”
Smith and Peters offer a formidable duo, but Smith’s return also signals opposing offenses must account for him on the field.
And that starts with the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4.
“Sean is a good player,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday during a conference call with a Chiefs beat writers. “He plays very long and can get his hands on people and so forth, can contest the ball at the point. I’m sure they’re excited to have him back in the lineup.”
Four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who will likely see a lot of Smith across the line of scrimmage, agreed with his head coach.
“He’s a big, long corner and very athletic,” Green said of Smith in a separate conference call. “He can rush, has long arms and likes to press.”
Meanwhile, the time away from practice could lead some to believe Smith will need time to knock off rust and get back in football playing shape.
But Smith, who enters his seventh professional season, grinned when asked how comfortable he would be on the field against the Bengals.
“Just like riding a bike – one pedal at a time,” Smith said. “Let’s go.”