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Updating position battles: defense, kicker

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- As the Kansas City Chiefs continue training camp, we’re looking at how key position battles are shaping up. Earlier, we ran down the top competitions on offense. Here, we’re looking at defense and special teams.

Cornerback: There’s little drama on defense, except when it comes to the demotion of Sean Smith to the second team. Smith, one of the Chiefs’ big free-agent signings of last year, is exactly what the Chiefs are looking for in a cornerback. He’s big enough to match up and get physical with opposing receivers. Smith also played well enough as a starter last season. But Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker have been the starters since camp opened. Other than recent comments from defensive coordinator Bob Sutton that Smith wasn’t far from winning his job back, there’s no evidence the Chiefs are planning to promote Smith. Smith moved back into the starting lineup late in Thursday’s practice after Cooper left with a sore hamstring but look for Cooper to regain the spot when he returns to practice.

Place-kicker: Rookie free agent Cairo Santos has the ability to kick in the NFL. He’s only 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, but he has a strong enough leg to handle the job. In choosing between Santos and incumbent Ryan Succop, the Chiefs need to decide how comfortable they would be with a rookie as their kicker. From all appearances, they don’t fear that with this particular rookie. They believe he has the mental toughness to be an NFL kicker. But Succop has experience getting past a slump. He hit all three of his field goal attempts in last year’s playoff game a week after missing the potential game-winning kick in San Diego. That kind of mental toughness is essential for a kicker. Santos’ salary is about $1.5 million less than that of Succop but it’s difficult to put a price tag on Succop’s experience at a pressure-filled position. Both players have kicked well in camp.