KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs ranked last in the NFL with six interceptions last season.
This season, the Chiefs already have eight picks through eight games, and three of those picks have come from emerging star Marcus Peters, the cornerback the team drafted 18th overall in May.
Peters started the season on an eye-popping note, intercepting two passes and logging seven passes defended in the first two games.
His first pick, against the Houston Texans, came on the first play of his NFL career. The next week, facing the rival Denver Broncos and an all-time great at quarterback in Peyton Manning, Peters snagged a pick and returned it 55 yards for a score. His third interception came against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6.
“He’s a good football player, and I’m glad we got him,” Chiefs defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas said. “In the future, he’s going to be one of the better ones in the league.”
Thomas would know about greatness as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he likes what he sees from Peters not only on game days but on practice days as well.
“The ball skills came with him,” Thomas said. “That’s something that’s an innate ability, but the thing … that is really impressive is the way he practices. He practices like it’s a game, and it’s a carryover into the game.”
Numerous attributes of Peters make Thomas optimistic about the career the young cornerback has in front of him, but the player’s enthusiasm for the game is the first one the coach mentions.
“That’s the thing that you really gauge a young man on, is that he enjoys practice, so consequently he enjoys playing the game,” Thomas said, “and [every] day we practice out there, he practices like it’s a game, which is very exciting to see.”
At the midway point of the season, Peters is tied for third in the league with three interceptions and 11 passes defended. Thomas does not talk about the cornerback’s numbers, however, but rather the forces behind them.
“His enthusiasm for the game, his instincts, his work habits,” Thomas said. “He really understands the game, he loves to compete, and he’s got excellent ball skills.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid will not say he is surprised by the production of Peters thus far; neither will he praise that performance with too much gusto. On both counts, however, the coach projects positivity about what is ahead.
“Listen, we felt he was the best corner in that draft,” Reid said. “Is he learning every week? Did he have a couple plays there that [he’d] like to have back? Yeah. But the one thing he does, he’s got a short memory, which you’ve got to have at that position, and he’s going to keep bringing it at you, and he’s got a good attitude that goes along with that.
“He’s feisty,” Reid added. “Very, very competitive.”
The Kansas City defense looked sharp Sunday against the hapless Detroit Lions, whom the Chiefs defeated 45-10 in London. They racked up six sacks and two picks. Detroit’s only touchdown came in the fourth quarter.
Thomas was pleased at how the defensive backs performed, and he credited another unit for enabling them to do their jobs better.
“They played real well, especially going over there and working hard and kept focus,” Thomas said of the pass rush. “We’ve always said as a defensive secondary that the pressure’s the thing that makes us, and we have two excellent rushers outside, and we’re getting some pressure up inside.”
With the obvious benefit of great defensive players around him, including linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on that fearsome pass rush, Peters has handled the transition from college to pro quite well on the field.
Like any player and particularly any rookie, however, he still has areas in which he can improve, and he has already made some strides.
“Training his eyes is probably the best improvement I’ve seen him make,” Thomas said. “Got to get him to catch the flash a little bit better, but other than that he’s doing well.”
Thomas said Peters needs to work on staying focused all the way through each play on his coverage.
“He’ll have a guy [covered] and then he’ll lean off trying to go somewhere else and help someone else,” Thomas said, “but as far as his movement skills, ball skills, his intelligence, it’s all there.”