Only now, six months after signing with the Chiefs and almost a week into training camp, is cornerback Stanford Routt starting to feel as if he belongs.
Seven years of doing things a certain way while playing for the Raiders will do that to a guy. But it’s not just wearing some color, in this case red, on the practice field that made the transition tough.
Routt is replacing a fan favorite, Brandon Carr, who was allowed by the Chiefs to leave as a free agent. Routt is the only new face in a secondary where the other cornerback, Brandon Flowers, is a pillar of the franchise while the safeties, Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis, are rapidly getting there.
“All those guys have been playing together for the last two, three, four years or whatever it is,” Routt said recently after practice. “We’re all getting on the same page. With everything they bring to the table, it will be a lot of fun playing with them.”
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The Chiefs this season have built their hopes for an AFC West championship and a playoff run around what they believe will be a strong defense. The Chiefs finished last season as one of the better defensive teams in the league. They were third in the NFL in points and yards allowed over the season’s final six games and expect significant carryover.
The only other new defensive starter will be the nose tackle, whether it’s rookie Dontari Poe or Anthony Toribio or someone else. So the Chiefs are counting on Routt to make a fast transition.
In his case particularly, it’s not as simple as changing uniforms. The Chiefs want Routt to play with more discipline than he did last season, when he collected 17 penalties while playing for the Raiders.
“He has to learn and understand how we play, because how he played at other places is not the way we play,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “He’s got to ingrain himself in the way we play, the Chiefs’ way. He’s working on that and will be able to get that done.”
Routt is working on it, but still has to prove he can get it done. Routt is, at 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, big for a cornerback, and he tries to use that size to his advantage. He will many times try to beat up a receiver off the line, and his problems come when he gets too aggressive.
Routt has made his share of plays in camp. He’s been the cornerback most successful in slowing down Jon Baldwin, the Chiefs’ receiver who has been a standout in camp.
“Many of his penalties came when he was in (that aggressive) position,” Crennel said of Routt. “We have the opportunity to look at him and see and know exactly what he can do. I know that he has a nose for the ball, and he can make some plays on the ball.”
Routt didn’t seem troubled by collecting all the penalties shortly after signing with the Chiefs, when he took a things-happen attitude toward the problem. He declined to discuss the issue at training camp.
“That was last year,” he said.
At his best, Routt could be a nice complement to the smaller Flowers. Routt’s best years with the Raiders came when he played opposite Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the league’s best cornerbacks.
He also knows the receivers in the AFC West well, something that could play to his advantage when the Chiefs play their division rivals.
“It’s good, but at the same time they also know us very well,” Routt said. “They watch film just like we do. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
Playing with Routt is an adjustment for his fellow defensive backs. Berry and Lewis didn’t practice in the offseason because they were rehabbing from injuries, so the start of camp was their first on-field introduction.
Flowers and Routt practiced together in the spring. But for the first four years of his career, Flowers knew only Carr. Flowers and Carr came to the Chiefs together in the 2008 draft and were immediate starters.
“We’ve just got to get to know each other better,” Flowers said of Routt. “He’s a great corner coming in and making plays, and we feed off of each other’s energy out there.
“It’s just like when Carr was over there. It’s not a No. 1 or No. 2 corner out here. We are just two No. 1s. We’re just great corners on the same squad.”