If you are a firm believer in credit where it’s due, you must honor the job Branden Albert has done this season.
Branden Albert has been living on the most absurd bubble of the past three years since the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in the first round in 2008. He came to a team reeling off the retirement of All-Timer Willie Roaf and suffering under the shoddy tackle work of Jordan Black (a tackle so reviled in Kansas City that he was referred to as “I-65″) and the underwhelming inconsistency of Damion McIntosh.
And despite the franchise and its fans welcoming a young, potential franchise left tackle with open arms, Albert was immediately greeted by cynicism. The pick used to select him was traded for by sending the guy you see above, Jared Allen, to Minnesota. Allen was immensely popular in his time at Kansas City, and not only was Albert’s position far less sexy to the fanbase (sack artists are more exciting than blind side protectors), he rarely spoke to the media, ever.
To make matters worse, Albert had to prove himself almost immediately. After all, he rarely played tackle at Virginia, playing guard alongside Eugene Monroe, who is now a left tackle bust of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because of this, Albert wasn’t welcomed with the unquestionable, praised talent that a Joe Thomas or even an Anthony Costanzo garnered. But then-coach Herm Edwards did the right thing and planted Albert at left tackle from day one and never budged him, moving McIntosh (who they paid pretty big money to bring in the year before) to right tackle.
Albert rewarded the franchise with brilliant play all year, surrendering few sacks, committing few penalties, and pounding the piss out of people in the run game. (To this day, he remains a Top Five runblocking left tackle in the NFL.) He showed insane mobility to mirror pass rushers, the ability to lock down rushers with his hands, and a generally mean attitude in the run game. By season’s end, he had a million dollar’s worth of good will built up with the franchise.
Which he subsequently lost. New head coach Todd Haley was ushered in following the disasterous 2008 season, and he believed Albert needed to lose weight and thoroughly reworked Albert’s techniques (the Chiefs switched blocking schemes, too, from Herm Edwards’ power blocking to Todd Haley’s zone blocking). The change was so dramatic, right down to his actual physical appearance, that Albert has appeared to be varying degrees of “lost” for the last two years. His run blocking remained dominant throughout this period (the Chiefs led the league in rushing last year), but pass rushers were able to whip him in any number of moves. He appeared slow, and played soft.
The tale continues, after the jump.
His first year under Haley, 2009, was his worst, and many fans were demanding en masse that the Chiefs select tackles Russell Okung out of Oklahoma State or Bryan Bulaga out of Iowa in the next year’s draft. But the Chiefs let Albert keep his job, even if it was on perpetually thin ice, by selecting safety Eric Berry. Albert’s improvement continued to stall and he even regressed against passrushers in 2010, prompting fans to support the Chiefs getting Anthony Costanzo out of Boston College, Gabe Carimi out of Wisconsin, or Nate Solder out of Colorado the next year. Instead, the Chiefs let Albert keep his job, still on perpetually thin ice, by selecting wideout Johnny Baldwin.
This fanbase has been hungry for help at the tackle position every single year since Willie Roaf has retired, and Branden Albert hadn’t done much to tame those calls down. He’s faced a radical philosophy change in the front office and coaching staff, has had to dramatically change his technique, and has had to suffer the calls of fans every year for a replacement. (Rumor has it GM Scott Pioli was waiting for Nate Solder to fall to him in this year’s draft, until Bill Belichick and the Patriots snatched him up a few picks prior).
So while we applaud the work Albert has done this season and the improvements he’s shown, keep in mind he’s been able to turn it around in this atmosphere. That’s downright gargantuan.
He has held it together and limited the pressure on his edge even as the entire team collapses around him, as it did the first two weeks. He was able to stone two of the best DEs the NFL has to offer, Jared Allen and Dwight Freeney, in consecutive weeks (Freeney got the best of him on only a few plays, and Allen only managed to beat him once that I noted).
It’s a different world for Branden Albert now. He’s even broken out of his typical silence, and has been so pumped up that he’s apparently daring the team to run behind him.
And I’m telling you right now, after everything this guy has been through in four short years in order to persevere, you’d be foolish not to.