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Chiefs S Eric Berry on track for season opener

July 26, 2014; St. Joseph, MO: Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) goes through drills at training camp. Credit: Matt Derrick, ChiefsSpin.com

July 26, 2014; St. Joseph, MO: Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) goes through drills at training camp. Credit: Matt Derrick, ChiefsSpin.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A big part of the Chiefs defense expects to be on the field Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

All-Pro strong safety Eric Berry, whose right heel injury kept him out of the preseason, practiced fully the past two days and is on track to return to the starting lineup.

Another good sign Berry will play is he addressed the media Thursday where he indicated he’ll be fine despite the lost time.

“I should be,” Berry said. “We are going to see.”

Berry said he stayed engaged during the preseason games by taking mental repetitions and watching film to maintain his edge.

“In every way I could without being on the field,” he said. “I was still working.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said it’s difficult to make up for missed practices, but points out Berry’s veteran status and experience.

And those qualities combine with Berry’s ability to make plays in Sutton’s scheme on the back end of coverage.

“I think having EB back is a real settling thing back there,” Sutton said. “Obviously gives us a guy that can make big plays, the other part is prevent big plays because he has great range and speed.”

Ultimately, keeping Berry healthy is critical to the Chiefs defense.

He originally suffered the right heel injury during training camp on July 31. He returned to practice on Aug. 3, but aggravated the injury on Aug. 12. The Chiefs then revealed Berry was dealing with tendonitis in his heel.

The prolonged rest may have done Berry well, but there’s always a chance the tendonitis could delay a full recovery.

“We’ll take it day by day,” Berry said, “week by week and see how it goes. I can’t predict the future, so it might go away, it might linger. We don’t know, so we’ll just try to handle it.”

The good news is he’s practicing and on track to start Sunday.

“He looks fine to me and you can ask him,” Sutton said. “I haven’t noticed anything since he’s been back fulltime.”

TACKLING A FRIENDLY FOE

Chiefs defenders have carte blanche to lay the wood on a former teammate when Titans running back Dexter McCluster takes the field.

But actually getting a clean shot may prove difficult.

“It’ll be hard to lay a hit on Dexter,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said with a chuckle. “He’s pretty quick. As long as I take my shot and I’ve got a couple of my buddies coming after me just in case I miss.”

Defensive tackle Dontari Poe agreed.

“It will be fun if I do hit him,” Poe said with a smile. “Let me say it like that, but at the same time it’s fun for me to pretty much hit anybody.”

Still, Johnson and Poe hold no animosity towards the former Chiefs wide receiver, and both defenders spoke highly of McCluster.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for Dexter,” Johnson said. “We know he’s a big part of their offense and he’ll be a matchup guy that creates a mismatch with linebackers, so we’ll see how that goes on Sunday.”

Poe said he didn’t want to make a big deal of facing McCluster.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the man,” Poe said. “He’s a good player.”

OK, but what if there’s that one chance to say hello at the line of scrimmage?

“Hopefully I do get a hat on him,” Poe said with a grin.

NEXT MAN UP

It’s arguably the oldest cliché in the NFL, but “next man up” applies with running back De’Anthony Thomas’ hamstring injury affecting two areas.

Thomas suffered the injury late in Wednesday’s practice. He missed Thursday’s practice, leaving his availability for Sunday’s game in the air.

The Chiefs don’t have a choice but to have Plan B ready on offense, especially at wide receiver, and special teams.

“You’ve got (wide receiver) A.J. Jenkins,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “He’s a potential guy. (Wide receiver) Albert (Wilson) has had some reps at that position all through training camp. (Wide receiver) Junior Hemingway is in that role. There are several guys, (running back) Joe McKnight.”

The interchangeable parts don’t stop on offense, as special teams coordinator Dave Toub has options to return punts, a role Thomas projected as the primary returner.

“It could be (wide receiver) Frankie (Hammond Jr.),” Toub said. “It could be Albert (Wilson). It could be Joe McKnight. We’ve got three guys that can do it and if that’s the case, I think we’ll be fine.”

NOTES: The Chiefs added running back De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring), cornerback Marcus Cooper (ankle), fullback Anthony Sherman (back) and linebacker Frank Zombo (groin) to Thursday’s injury report … Thomas and Cooper did not practice, while Sherman and Zombo put in full practices … Backup center Eric Kush (shoulder) put in a limited practice Thursday after missing Wednesday.