When the Chiefs had Brandon Flowers work at slot cornerback in training camp, he didn’t think much of it. He had played on the outside for majority of his pro career, and as far as he knew, he was just being asked to get a little work on the inside as a precaution.
“When I played nickel in training camp, I just kept saying, ‘You never know whats going to happen’” Flowers said. “They want to build you up for every situation.”
Turns out the move was prescient. Thanks to that training camp experience, Flowers didn’t blink when the Chiefs told him he was going to be playing inside against the Titans last weekend, despite the fact he said he hadn’t played there “in years” during a game.
“They let me know on Wednesday that I was going to go to the slot,” Flowers said. “I had limited reps in practice, so I had to make sure every rep I got was in the slot so I could get comfortable with it.”
Truth is, Flowers said he still didn’t feel all that comfortable in the position Sunday. But it was hard to tell, as he racked up eight tackles and was assigned a plus-2.0 grade in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus, in the Chiefs’ 26-17 win.
“That shows how great our coaching staff is,” Flowers said. “They didn’t want it to be a full surprise if I did have to go in. They prepared me well.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid called it a scheme-based decision by defensive coordinator Bob Sutton that was apparently fueled by Flowers’ versatility and the emergence of cornerback Marcus Cooper, a 6-foot-2 rookie who gives them another tall, physical cornerback to pair outside with 6-foot-3, 218-pound Sean Smith in their press-man scheme.
“Coop(er)’s been playing well, too, so you get confidence to be able to do that,” Reid said. “Brandon’s flexibility is the key there. He can do so many things for you, and he’s so willing. Very seldom do you see guys of his stature that are that tough and are willing to get inside there with some of those big bodies, but he can play in there.”
Indeed, though Flowers admitted the adjustment inside is bigger than you might think.
“I’ve (still) got to get comfortable,” Flowers said with a laugh. “I haven’t been in there in years during a game.… It’s really a totally different game inside than it is outside. You’ve got a lot of field to cover.”
Reid made it clear the decision to move Flowers inside had nothing to do with Flowers’ balky knee, which limited him in practice all week and caused him to miss the Chiefs’ win over the Giants the week before.
“No, it wasn’t a load off the knee,” Reid said. “It was just what Bob wanted as far as scheme went, not necessarily as much about match-ups as scheme.”
Flowers also balked at the notion of his knee playing a factor.
“If I’m on the field, it doesn’t matter,” Flowers said. “Nobody is concerned about my knee. When I step on the field, I’ve got to be ready to play.”
Flowers said he went to great lengths to do just that.
“I’m talking about waking up five in the morning, getting home at like six, seven at night and it’s worth it,” Flowers said. “You’ve got to put in all you can to be on the field. This team … they hold they players accountable for being on the field and making plays, so I know I had to get back out there quick.”
Flowers’ sacrifice and corresponding move inside opened the door for Cooper, a seventh-round pick who was picked up off waivers from the 49ers right before the season, to have a major role on Sunday.
The rookie from Rutgers recorded his first NFL interception and also allowed only two catches, despite being targeted eight times.
“Well, he’s a smart kid and has good coaching,” Reid said. “He wants to be good. He goes out there every day and doesn’t let anything get in the way of him getting better each and every day. He’s willing to challenge, and he also knows that he’s a big kid in size, so he’s not afraid of match-ups or whatever.”
Cooper’s emergence and Flowers’ shift inside impacted veteran Dunta Robinson the most. Robinson was the Chiefs’ nickel cornerback to start the season, but was he didn’t log a single defensive snap Sunday after averaging 38 in his previous three games.
Robinson, however, seemed to keep a good head about it. After a big first-half stop by the defense, he was one of the guys that ran onto the field briefly to congratulate his teammates.
“It’s a pleasure to see young guys going out there and playing as hard and as well as those guys are playing,” Robinson said. “Any way I can encourage them, anything I can tell them to help them out, that’s what I’m here for.
“Honestly, I’m really not worried about it,” Robinson said of his sharp decrease of playing time. “I guess we’ll see.”
The same, in a way, can be said for Flowers’ move inside. The six-year veteran doesn’t know how much he’ll be deployed there in the future, but it’s safe to say he’s good with it, as long as the Chiefs keep winning.
“I’m looking forward to (the challenge) week in and week out,” Flowers said. “Whatever it takes, man.”