KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Family came before football for Chiefs cornerback Jacques Reeves.
So in the prime of his career, Reeves stepped away from the game for two years and tended to his mother, Annie, who underwent a liver and kidney transplant last September in Dallas.
“I’m her only son,” said Reeves, who sat out the 2010 and 2011 seasons, “and I felt like she needed me there more than I needed to be playing football. I had to take care of her, and that came first.”
Reeves, who spent 2004-07 with Dallas and 2008-09 with Houston, signed with the Chiefs last spring when his mother appeared to be stable. But she passed away at 63 on July 26, the day the Chiefs reported to St. Joseph, so Reeves missed the first week of training camp.
But Reeves, 29, made up for lost time. With starter Brandon Flowers out for the past month because of a heel injury and Jalil Brown suffering a groin injury against Seattle last Friday night, Reeves finds himself as the starting left cornerback going into Thursday night’s preseason finale at Green Bay.
And he quite possibly will be lining up against either NFC receiving leader Roddy White (100 catches, eight touchdowns) or second-year phenom Julio Jones (54 receptions, eight TDs) on opening day against Atlanta when Reeves begins dedicating the season to his mother.
“I know she’s watching,” Reeves said. “She’s my biggest fan. This is all for her. She wanted me to come back and play. She didn’t want her health to sidetrack what I wanted to do.”
Reeves, 5-11, 188, was the only Houston defensive back to start all 16 games in 2008 and appeared in 12 games with three starts in 2009 after recovering from a fractured fibula in the preseason. He has six career interceptions, including a 44-yard touchdown return in 2008.
“I didn’t come back to be a backup,” he said of his role with the Chiefs. “I came back to try and help this team win in any way that I can. With all the injuries, my opportunity came pretty quick.”
Certainly Reeves has had to shake off some rust, especially to play a position like cornerback, where one misstep can result in an opponent’s touchdown.
“It wasn’t hard,” he said of playing for the first time in three years. “It’s kind of easy to get back into something you love. I love being here, I love playing football, I love the work. When you love something, it makes the hard work easier.
“I missed it like crazy. I kept working out, obviously. I never got out of shape, hoping I’d get another opportunity.”
If Reeves hangs onto the starting spot for the season opener, the Chiefs could unveil a completely new secondary from a year ago.
In addition to Reeves, right cornerback Stanford Routt is a newcomer, having signed as a free agent from Oakland; veteran free safety Abram Elam, who was signed as a free agent from Dallas, has stepped in the spot of injured Kendrick Lewis; and strong safety Eric Berry missed all but the first few plays of 2011 after suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Buffalo.
“No team is the same from one year to the next,” Routt said. “You’re always going to have new pieces. It’s football. Somebody goes down, somebody else goes up.
“Jacques has been around this league for a while, played for some great teams. I don’t have any problem with him being out there, and I don’t think he’s going to falter one bit.”
Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel didn’t sugarcoat the state of flux in the secondary.
“The nature of the business in the NFL is that the next guy has to be ready to step up,” Crennel said. “Now, we all understand that the next guy is … not the first guy, so chances are that all the abilities that the first guy has, the next guy doesn’t have.
“So we’re going to go ahead and play with those guys, and I think that those guys will give a good effort.”
Crennel has been impressed with how far Reeves has come after missing two seasons.
“He’s been making plays on the ball in his coverage, in one-on-one coverage particularly,” Crennel said. “He’s shown up during the course of camp. Now, he’s not perfect, but neither are any of the guys we have right now. But he’s competitive, and he can make some plays.”
Elam made the Chiefs’ only interception of the preseason against Arizona and is on both the kickoff and kickoff return teams.
“He’s an experienced guy, and at that safety spot, he’s shown that he can handle the back end, that he can also make plays,” Crennel said. “He went for another interception the other night that he misjudged. I think that he’s a competent safety, and he’ll do a good job for us.”
Having four new players in the secondary can often lead to communication problems such as the blown coverage between Berry and Brown that led to a Seattle touchdown. Routt said not to read too much into that play.
“That’s the thing about football,” Routt said. “Mistakes happen. If mistakes didn’t happen, there would never be points scored, and points are scored every game.”