Defensive secondary communication in good hands

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs’ 2013 season, which for the most part proved a success, came to an abrupt end following a stunning 45-44 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

December 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) celebrates after an interception against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
December 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) celebrates after an interception against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

But the nightmare will ultimately be put to rest if Chiefs defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas has his way.

“We’ve watched it about three times with the players,” Thomas said following Wednesday’s organized team activity (OTA) practice. “But as a coaching staff we’ve watched it about 10 times.

“Right now, we want to bury that and get along with it. It was a tough thing that happened to us, but it happens sometimes. Hopefully we’re preparing and we go out there and fight harder this year.”

Part of the preparations include constant on-field communication from strong safety Eric Berry and free safety Husain Abdullah, who replaces last year’s starter Kendrick Lewis, with their defensive teammates.

Lewis, who signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Texans in March, mostly assumed that role. However, Thomas looks forward to seeing what Berry and Abdullah can do.

“I think we’re fortunate enough to have two veterans to call signals in Husain and Eric Berry,” Thomas said. “I think it’s in capable hands. They’re preparing real well in the classroom, and also out here, so looking forward to the season and training camp. And I think we’ll get the job done.”

Meanwhile, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was complimentary of Abdullah, who enters his sixth season, during Wednesday’s media session.

“He did a really good job for us last year,” Sutton said, “played a lot of different roles for us. He’s a guy that has very good instincts, has really good knowledge of the whole defense, so he gives us some great flexibility.”

Sutton and Thomas need Berry and Abdullah to step up when considering how the 2013 season ended.

Kansas City started hot against the pass through Week 10’s bye, ranking sixth (208.3 yards allowed per game). And then quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck happened.

The breakdowns in communication on the back end of coverage during the second half of the season were evident, leading to the team going from sixth against the pass to finishing the regular season ranked 25th (247.6 yards allowed).

The playoff loss punctuated the defensive slide, as Luck led a furious comeback win by completing 25-of-49 passes for 443 yards passing and four touchdowns against three interceptions, two recorded by Abdullah.

Nevertheless, with 2013 in the rear view window, the Chiefs expect Berry to become more of a leader, assuming the role of communicating signals.

And it’s a duty the All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl strong safety embraces.

“Just talking to coach (Andy Reid),” Berry said Tuesday, “he wants me to be the guy to make sure that I know what’s going on, make sure that I’m stepping up and being a leader and holding myself and my teammates accountable. And that’s vice versa throughout my teammates as well. So the biggest thing is just being alert and being aware at all times.”

So how much growth from last season should be expected from the secondary?

“Tremendous,” Thomas emphatically said. “We broke ourselves down and the things that we really suffered on. We were good on third downs, but we gave away too many big plays, explosive plays when you think about it. With what we’re doing now, we can stop some of that.”

Berry echoed his position coach.

“Everybody’s taking ownership,” Berry said. “Everybody is trying to put in. Nobody is just leaning on anybody or expecting somebody else to make a play, everybody is trying to get there and make a play themselves. The more people we have holding themselves accountable, the better the team will be as a whole.”