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Ron Parker the likely choice to replace Eric Berry

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs will begin their practice week on Wednesday in preparation for their biggest game of the season. One of the things they will need to decide: How to replace strong safety Eric Berry in the starting lineup on Sunday night when they host the Denver Broncos.

The decision shouldn’t take long. Berry, who has what the Chiefs believe to be lymphoma, missed five games this season because of a high-ankle sprain.

Ron Parker replaced Berry in those five games and played so well that the Chiefs believed he deserved a place in their secondary even after Berry returned. Parker moved to one of the starting cornerback spots once Berry returned to the lineup in the Nov. 9 game against the Buffalo Bills.

The Chiefs not only survived but thrived without Berry. They went 4-1 in games without Berry and 3-3 when he is in the lineup.

Berry made the Pro Bowl in three of his first four NFL seasons, missing only in 2011 when he missed all but a handful of plays because of torn knee ligaments.

This has been perhaps his worst NFL season. He was bothered in the preseason with a heel injury and then had the high ankle sprain. Pro Football Focus has Berry with an overall negative grade for the first time in his career.

Moving Parker to safety will require some shuffling at cornerback, but the Chiefs have some options there. Jamell Fleming has missed the last several games because of a strained hamstring but could be ready to return.

Rookie Phillip Gaines has been working as the nickel back in place of the injured Chris Owens but could start at corner if Owens is available against the Broncos.

The Chiefs also have Marcus Cooper, who began the season as a starter but has been buried on the bench because of poor play.