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Shifting, Juggling Dominate Chiefs Offensive Line

As the Chiefs hold their final three practices of the 2014 off-season with the mini-camp starting Tuesday there’s one thing that’s crystal clear after the team’s 10 OTA sessions:

Don’t use ink when listing the offensive line starters.

That’s not entirely true, given that Rodney Hudson has been the No. 1 center in the starting group all through May and June. At the other four spots, matters are not so obvious. That’s especially true at right guard, where Andy Reid and his coaching staff are seeking a starter to replace the departed duo of Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz.

As G.M. John Dorsey and Reid start to look at cutting their current 15 offensive linemen down to a group of seven to 10 for the 53-man regular-season, they are mixing and matching at guard and tackle.

“That’s one group that’s improving,” Reid said of the blockers. “There are guys that have stepped up. The other guys have grasped it pretty well and look like their doing pretty good.

“You need more than five. You need to make sure that you have a good 10 of them ready. You want to find that number, whether it’s eight, nine, 10; you want to see what you’ve got there.

“We’ve been challenging them as much as you can challenge them here, which isn’t much.”

The NFL labor agreement does not allow off-season contact between players, especially the offensive and defensive lines. Until the pads go on and the hard work of training camp begins, Reid and his staff will not be able to really evaluate the situation.

But based on what little was visible in the workouts, here are some things to consider:

– The right guard spot is up for grabs and one guy in the thick of the fight is sixth-round draft choice Zach Fulton out of the University of Tennessee. At 6-5, 316 pounds, Fulton is as advertised in preparations for the NFL Draft – he’s a road-grader type, big and powerful. He will be a factor.

– Left tackle Eric Fisher will have a lot of ground to make up because he hasn’t been able to work in the practices and his weight lifting efforts have been stymied a bit because of the shoulder and sports hernia surgeries that he’s had this season. The Chiefs wanted Fisher to add weight, but as he was running across-the-field sprints after Friday’s practice, he looks like he may have lost weight. He’s going to need a lot of weight room time before the second Sunday of September.

– When the Chiefs had their rookie mini-camp and invited a host of players for a tryout, the only guy that was given a contract was offensive tackle Ryan McKee. He spent several seasons with St. Louis, but saw no playing time. Last fall, he was a graduate-assistant coach at the University of North Carolina. But watching him work in the OTAs, he shows some talent and if he stays healthy, he could challenge for one of those extra tackle spots. McKee is probably better at right tackle than left, but he’s jumped in there and done a good job at both spots.

– Offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb showed up only on the right side during the OTAs. Listed at 6-7, 333 pounds, the four-year veteran is overall the biggest blocker on the roster. But he does not look big. Tall yes, big no – if the 333 pounds is accurate, he’s one of the svelter big-man in the league.

– As expected sixth-round draft choice Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has struggled making the transition from Canadian college football to the NFL. There is no question LDT has athletic skills; he moves more like an agile tight end than a guard. There’s also no doubt he’s an intelligent young man. What will have to be decided when it comes to a 53-man roster spot will be how fast he can connect his athletic ability with an understanding of the position.

Here’s a very rough depth chart for the offensive line based on how the players were used during OTAs. It’s far too early for anyone, including Reid and his staff, to make conclusive decisions on the standing of all blockers:

  • Left tackle – Fisher, Donald Stephenson, McKee, Webb.
  • Left guard – Jeff Allen, Jeff Linkenbach, Rishaw Johnson, Rokevious Watkins, Durvernay-Tardif, Ricky Henry.
  • Center – Hudson, Eric Kush, Ben Gottschalk.
  • Right guard – Fulton, Johnson, Linkenbach, Watkins, Otis Hudson, Henry.
  • Right tackle – Stephenson, Webb, Linkenbach, McKee, Hudson.

Linkenbach has shown ability to play both guard and tackle, improving his chances of making the 53-man roster. Fulton and Linkenbach worked together as a pair for several practices, with Johnson and Webb paired up. The last two days of OTAs saw a swap as Fulton was paired with Webb and Johnson with Linkenbach.

Fisher, Stephenson, Allen, Hudson, Fulton and Linkenbach figure to be roster locks. That leaves three to four slots open. Much remains to be done in the Chiefs offensive line, especially on quality backups and someone that can be the second snapper should Hudson go down.

“We make sure when one guy goes down we’ve got that next guy that can go,” said Reid.

One thing that Dorsey and Reid know is their blocking group has some NFL regular-season experience.

Offensive line NFL experience on Chiefs roster

Player

Pos

Games

Starts

Age*

Into NFL

Jeff Allen

G

31

27

24

2nd round 2012

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

G

R

R

23

6th round 2014

Eric Fisher

T

14

13

23

1st round 2013

Zach Fulton

G

R

R

22

6th round 2014

Ben Gottschalk

C

R

R

22

UDFA 2014

Ricky Henry

G

2

0

27

UDFA 2011

Otis Hudson

G-T

0

0

28

5th round 2010

Rodney Hudson

C

34

19

25

2nd round 2011

Rishaw Johnson

G

3

1

25

UDFA 2012

Eric Kush

C

3

1

25

6th round 2013

Jeff Linkenbach

G-T

60

33

27

UDFA 2010

Ryan McKee

T

0

0

27

UDFA 2009

Donald Stephenson

G-T

32

14

25

3rd round 2012

Rokevious Watkins

G

4

1

26

5th round 2012

J’Marcus Webb

T

54

45

26

7th round 2010

*-age as of 2014 regular-season opener. UDFA=undrafted free agent.


One Response to “Shifting, Juggling Dominate Chiefs Offensive Line”

  • June 17, 2014  - KC_Guy says:

    I just wonder why they play Stephenson on the left all the time if Fisher is penciled in as LT. They force both to re-adjust in the little time training camp provides – Stephenson from LT to RT after spending all time in OTA on the left, Fisher from right to left after spending all of last season on the right.
    Wouldn’t be surprised at all if they keep Stephenson on the left and Fisher on the right side to start theseason.




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