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Chiefs rookie safety Tysyn Hartman: trial by fire

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, at 3:26 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, at 10:10 a.m.

Tysyn Hartman took a moment to look around him last week as the seconds ticked off in what would become the Chiefs second win of the season.

Because of injuries, the rookie safety was surrounded by players just as inexperienced: cornerback Neiko Thorpe and linebacker Cory Greenwood.

Hartman, playing extensively for the first time, suddenly didn’t feel so young.

“Guys were dropping like flies,” said Hartman, the Wichita native who came to the Chiefs undrafted out of Kansas State. “I feel like I did (well) enough after not getting many reps at practice and then getting thrown in there. I was prepared to play some of the game but not to the extent I did. I didn’t have any critical errors. I tried to let the game come to me.”

The Chiefs had to go to a patchwork lineup in the second half last week because of injuries to linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive backs Kendrick Lewis, Brandon Flowers and Abe Elam. With those players listed at best as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Browns in Cleveland, the Chiefs may be forced to go with the same lineup again this week.

Johnson, Lewis and Flowers were limited in practice Friday. Johnson and Flowers, each with a hamstring injury, said they would test their hamstrings before Sunday’s game, and a decision whether or not to play would be made at that time.

“If they feel like they can play, I will give them an opportunity to,” coach Romeo Crennel said.

If none can play, the Chiefs will feature Hartman, Thorpe and Greenwood again.

“We were finishing the game with those guys last week and we may be starting the game with those guys this week,” said Crennel, who is generally uneasy about having to go with one untested player, much less three at the same time. “I’m glad they were in the meetings and taking good notes and preparing themselves during the week, so they could go out there and line up and compete.”

The Chiefs survived against Carolina with that lineup. Hartman wound up with six tackles to lead the Chiefs. Greenwood forced Carolina’s Brandon LaFell to fumble on one play, though the Panthers retained the ball when it went out of bounds.

Things were rougher for Thorpe, like Hartman an undrafted rookie safety.

He spent most of the season on the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster only recently.

But he became the third cornerback after Flowers left with his injury, playing when the Panthers flooded the field with extra receivers. That’s what they did on the first play after Flowers was injured, in the second quarter.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton went right after Thorpe and beat him with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith. The selection of available defensive backs at that point was so slim the Chiefs began prepping Shaun Draughn, a running back, to play in the secondary if they suffered another injury.

Draughn played some at safety in college at North Carolina.

“We won the game, and that was the good thing,” defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs said.

The Chiefs, with their stripped-down lineup, held the Panthers to one second-half touchdown.

“I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the defense,” Hartman said. “I was trying my best to get guys lined up in the right way. The coaches have done a good job of not throwing too much at me at once.”

Greenwood has been one of the Chiefs’ best special teams players since he arrived in 2010 but has played little on defense. But he was forced into the game after Johnson’s injury because Brandon Siler, who would have replaced Johnson, was in the starting lineup because of Jovan Belcher’s death.

Greenwood grew up playing 12-man football in Canada. His first exposure to the American game happened when he joined the Chiefs.

He said only now is he beginning to feel comfortable

“I felt like this preseason I did a pretty good job,” Greenwood said. “I calmed down a lot. My blinders went from a limited view to seeing the whole field now. I’m seeing the formations now and anticipating plays. That’s what held me back in the beginning. I’d see something, and it used to be so foreign to me. Now I’ve seen everything and I’m playing a lot faster.”

To reach Adam Teicher, call 816-234-4875 or send email to ateicher@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/adamteicher.

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