KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A year ago, Chiefs cornerback Jalil Brown wouldn’t have been ready for this.
Because the lockout kept teams from holding offseason programs or minicamps, Brown, like most of last year’s rookies, was not prepared for the demands of an NFL training camp, much less seeing substantial playing time at the start of the preseason.
But one year later, Brown is playing with confidence and moxie. A foot injury to Brandon Flowers early in camp elevated Brown to the starting left cornerback position.
When Flowers lined up at left corner during the Tuesday morning walk-through, Brown slid over to right cornerback in place of Stanford Routt, a free-agent acquisition. But Flowers was back on the sidelines on Wednesday, so it appears Brown will start at left corner on Friday night in the preseason opener against Arizona.
“Jalil has some flexibility,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “He’s made some plays in practice. We’ll probably roll him in just a little bit more so we can get a better look at him. I would have to say that what he’s done deserves more look.
“He’s more confident because I think he understands the system. He understands what it takes to play the game. Last year, he didn’t really know what it took to play the game. I saw improvement toward the end of the year, particularly on special teams. That’s where his improvement showed up … his effort, his toughness, as well.”
Brown, the Chiefs’ fourth-round pick from Colorado in 2011, discovered it took more than raw athletic ability to play cornerback in the NFL.
“Last year, I didn’t realize it at the time, but without having the OTAs and minicamps, that definitely set me back a ton,” Brown said. “I didn’t realize how much I was at a disadvantage.
“I had to learn how to be a professional going through the year, and going through OTAs, I learned what it takes to go in the training room and get ready and how to spend extra time in the film room.”
Brown, who is from Phoenix, is especially looking forward to Friday night’s game against his hometown Cardinals. He matched up against Cardinals superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the teams’ joint practice on Tuesday and could be defending Fitzgerald on Friday, depending on how much the Arizona starters play.
“When you go against a receiver of that caliber, you learn what you have to do to compete with him,” Brown said of Fitzgerald. “I’ll be ready to go. I know now the coaches have me playing both sides. They throw me in left or right, whichever will help the team, I’ll do it.”
Fitzgerald took notice of Brown during Tuesday’s practice and was surprised to hear he had so little experience at the NFL level.
“He’s in his second year?” Fitzgerald said. “He’s physical, he has good ball skills … he broke up a couple balls on me. He’s an impressive athlete.”
Brown, 6-1, 204, honed his coverage skills at Colorado, facing the likes of Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin and Denario Alexander, Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon, and Texas’ Jordan Shipley, among others.
But at Colorado, he was the other corner. Most attention was focused on the Buffaloes’ Jimmy Smith, who was taken in the first round by Baltimore. That worked to Brown’s advantage.
“We came in the same year, so we were competing since day one and working our way up to our senior year,” said Brown, who made 28 starts in his college career and intercepted six passes, including a team-high three in 2010.
“It helped me to play with a little chip on my shoulder, because when we were playing, I was trying to be the best out there, and he was doing the same, so to see him get some recognition made me want to try harder, and that, in turn, helped me perform better and get some looks.”
Brown appeared in 14 games as a rookie with the Chiefs last year and ranked second on the team with eight special-teams tackles, plus he recovered a fumble on a kickoff return against the Jets.
“Early on, there’s no telling when you’re going to get out there on offense or defense as a rookie, so your first mark is to get out there on special teams, and that’s exactly what I was trying to do,” Brown said. “Fortunately for me, at the end of the season, I started to figure out things a little bit and started to come along. Special teams helped me perform better and get some confidence.”
Brown also was a quick study behind Flowers and Brandon Carr, the Chiefs’ starter at right cornerback who signed with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent this year.
“It was great to play behind them,” Brown said. “There were little small things I watched and learned from them, talked with them … little tips they gave me, how to align, how to stay square, how to play different receivers different ways.
“You can’t go out there with the same technique against every guy because every technique has a weakness, so you have to have multiple (skills) to use against them.”