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- American football player
- American football coach
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Roughly eight months ago, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay was at the 101 Awards in Kansas City, grinning and talking confidently about the opportunity to coach a talent like Marcus Peters – all without mentioning his new star cornerback by name.
It made for an odd sight, but it was fitting since McVay didn’t fully know what it would be like to coach Peters yet. This was just Feb. 24 after all, and while McVay was in Peters’ old stomping grounds to accept his hard-earned NFC coach of the year award, the Rams had just struck a deal a day earlier to send a 2019 second-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for the two-time All-Pro.
McVay couldn’t speak about Peters directly since the trade couldn’t officially be finalized until the start of the new league year, which wouldn’t be another three weeks. Since then, McVay has gotten more acquainted with Peters, whose on-field outbursts and tendency toward brutal honesty played a role in the Chiefs’ decision to trade the 25-year-old in the first place.
And when asked how he and the Rams have handled Peters’ bluntness, McVay nodded his head and smiled.
“I think he’s real, is the best way that I would put it, and that’s what we appreciate,” McVay told Yahoo Sports. “We talk about communication, being clear, open and honest. We want to do things the right way, and to Marcus’ credit, I think it’s all about creating an atmosphere and environment of mutual respect and mutual understanding, and as long as we’re all about building those relationships, we know where we stand.”
As the Rams have gotten off to a 9-1 start, Peters’ bluntness — or “realness,” as McVay prefers to say — has bubbled to the surface on occasion. The most recent incident happened after the Rams’ 45-35 loss to the New Orleans Saints, when Peters was informed that Saints coach Sean Payton had said he’d gotten the matchup he wanted — Peters on star receiver Michael Thomas — on Thomas’ 72-yard score, which helped ice the game.
“Tell Sean Payton keep talking that s—, we’re gonna see him soon — you feel me?” Peters said. “Yeah, because I like what he was saying on the sidelines, too. So keep talking that s— and tell him I’m gonna see him soon. And then we’re going to have a nice little bowl of gumbo together.”
The exchange made the social media rounds, largely because NFL players are rarely this candid with reporters. Peters cares about only football, his family and being true to himself, which means telling what he perceives to be the truth at all times — even when it’s raw, and even when people don’t want to hear it.
This honesty can make him endearing. It can also bring him at odds with the drama-free football culture that teams crave, particularly when things aren’t going well.
Falling out in K.C., fitting in L.A.
It’s no secret that Peters wasn’t crazy about defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme in Kansas City. He wasn’t shy about vocalizing it privately, and toward the tail end of a four-game losing streak in 2017, his body language revealed it on the field. Peters had been caught on camera yelling at Sutton during a game earlier in the season, and his body language in the Chiefs’ loss to the Jets that December — punctuated by an overall meltdown in which he picked up a referee’s flag and threw it into the stands — led to a one-game suspension.
In the end, some in the locker room embraced his honesty, while others thought it was divisive. Internally, the club made the decision that it would not re-sign Peters — who was seeking $18 million a year — to a long-term deal when his contract expired. Instead of dealing with the distraction a potential holdout could cause, the Chiefs quietly shopped him around the league for three weeks and found only two serious bidders — San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The upwardly trending Rams were confident from Day 1 in their ability to accept Peters. McVay is one of the NFL’s brightest coaches, a wunderkind who has managed to command the respect of veterans at only age 32, and his defensive coordinator — Wade Phillips — is one of the NFL’s most respected (and accomplished) assistants. They figured they had the infrastructure to command Peters’ respect, all in a city relatively near his hometown of Oakland.
And while Peters’ hasn’t been as productive as he would like — we’ll get to that — from a personality standpoint, things seem to be going well. Peters has become fast friends with the Rams’ other cornerback, Aqib Talib, and for his part, Phillips made it clear he enjoys coaching Peters, even bucking back on the notion of him being “blunt.”
“Well, he’s honest,” Phillips told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t know about bluntness. But he’s honest, and we try to be honest with players and they try to be honest with us. And I appreciate that.
“He’s been great — he’s absolutely great. A good worker, you knew that about him. Real smart.”
Phillips said he’s also found Peters to be coachable and hasn’t had any issues from that standpoint.
“Reputation-wise, players think you’re a good coach because you’ve been around for a long time, so that was an easy transition there,” Phillips said.
Big expectations for Monday night
Peters’ trade initially left many Chiefs fans split. Some were happy to see him go. His protests against police brutality and racial injustice during the national anthem made him a lightning rod among Chiefs fans, while others were tired of his outbursts and inconsistent tackling. Still, others were upset that a team with an already weak defense traded its best cornerback, a proven ballhawk who at his best is an All-Pro player.
Peters’ on-field struggles this season, however, have erased much consternation. In Kansas City, Peters played lots of off coverage with safety help, which allowed him to read-and-react, gamble and make plays on the ball. The result was 19 interceptions from 2015-2017, the most of any corner in football.
In Los Angeles, Peters has been tasked with more man coverage, particularly from press, and he has lined up all over the field, not just on the left side like he was in Kansas City. The results have not been up to the standard he set, as Peters has allowed several completions while recording only one interception.
Peters suffered a calf strain in September that was supposed to keep him out two to four weeks. He did not miss a game, however, and he has refused to use that as an excuse, showing an accountability that McVay appreciates.
“He said, ‘I haven’t played very well, I’ve got to play better,’ ” McVay said. “And I think the fact he’s secure enough in himself, he’s accountable, I think that resonates with guys because he’s one of our most important players, one of our best players, and I think that demonstrates a security that a lot of people don’t have, to take that accountability.”
Phillips also said he could do a better job putting Peters in position to do what he does best.
“I probably tried to work him into the system rather than [working] the system for him,” Phillips explained. “But I think he’s come along. We’ve kind of adjusted better and I think he’s in a good place right now.
Phillips pointed to the Rams’ recent 36-31 win over the Seattle Seahawks. “The last game, he played really well and we played really well, pass defense-wise,” Phillips said.
Peters and the Rams’ pass defense will be tested again Monday night, when he will face his former team in front of a national audience at the L.A. Coliseum. Throughout the course of the past week, neither the Chiefs or Peters seemed interested in stoking interest with inflammatory remarks.
“I can’t do anything about it — I didn’t ask for it, you know?” Peters said of the trade. “Like I said, I appreciated everything the Chiefs did for me and my family, giving me an opportunity to play in this league. Now, I’m just loving and enjoying being an L.A. Ram.”
And to that end, McVay and Phillips said they haven’t seen anything out of Peters that would indicate this past week is any different than all the rest. But when reminded of Peters’ uncanny knack for making plays on big stages — like every time he returns home to play the Raiders in Oakland, for instance — both men smiled knowingly.
“I know he speaks highly of [the Chiefs] and he’s got a lot of relationships with a lot of the guys that’s still on the team, so it’s gonna be fun,” McVay said. “And anytime the lights come on, in an atmosphere and environment like this, you don’t want to shy away from it, but you don’t want to change your approach — you want to be consistent in how you do things.
“Being able to play in games like this is a blessing for our team, and I know Marcus will do a great job for us.”
Phillips agreed, noting that in his 40-plus years of coaching, he has learned that first, most players are amped up to face their former teams, and second, some players have an innate habit of making big plays, especially when faced with a challenge.
Given that knowledge, it’s easy for him to see Peters ending the season strong.
“Some players have it,” Phillips said, “and he’s one of those players who have it.”
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