Long before the Chiefs make a title run, they will have to make some changes along the offensive line. Their inability to run the ball without Jamaal Charles in the line-up points to issues that need to be dealt with before Charles returns. With only ten teams in the league giving up more sacks than the Chiefs, it shows their problems protecting the passer are both prevalent and pervasive.
The Chiefs offensive line played really well on Sunday evening against the Steelers but, the times they play inspired like that are too few and far between. Especially if they want to see themselves as title contenders.
The Chiefs have most of the skill position pieces in place to make a run for a title. Yes, they may need to address the QB situation, which is no small feat, before they can make a run for the roses but, I think most would agree that the Chiefs aren’t going anywhere, even with a new QB, until they start competing, consistently, up front.
Most would also agree that the Chiefs aren’t going to be able to “compete up front” until they make some changes and I’m not talking about coaching changes.
So, what’s good, and what’s not so good, about the players that the Chiefs have along the current offensive line?
LT Brandon Albert is above average but, not great. Khaled Elsayed at Pro Football Focus (PFF) says that Albert is “maddeningly inconsistent” and I would agree. While I have been of the opinion that left tackles have a similarly fragile ego to that of quarterbacks, and need stability to continue to produce in a pro-style offense, it’s time to put egos aside and make the moves that are necessary along the Chiefs offensive front. So, Albert may need to move to either left guard or right tackle, depending upon what direction the Chiefs take in acquiring or promoting other talents.
I have heard many suggest that Albert needs to be moved inside, to LG, each year, every time the draft rolls around, with the idea that the Chiefs would select his replacement. In the past I thought it was premature to even consider such a move with all the other positions that have needed addressing but now, enough time and opportunity have played out for the Chiefs to consider other alternatives. Mainly because what they have isn’t working.
In the 2012 draft, there looks to be a few prospects who could fill the bill but, one who looks to be available when the Chiefs are expected to pick, and that could be Riley Reiff from Iowa.
Pointing to Reiff at this early date may sound arbitrary but, if you consider: that Scotty Pioli keeps beaming up captain Kirk Ferentz’ Iowa players to the NFL, that Pioli has a propensity for drafting players from the same university in successive years, and that once OT Matt Kalil from USC is drafted then Reiff should be the top OT prospect available.
As you may be aware, Scott Pioli seemingly has a vacation home on the Iowa campus, or he should. The Chiefs drafted QB Ricky Stanzi from Iowa last year and that only increases the likelihood that Pioli will be doing business there again this year.
If the Chiefs were to move Albert inside and then draft Reiff, they would have the choice of playing David Mimms and/or Steve Maneri at RT. Or, they could play Reiff or Albert at LT and/or RT and deal separately with one of the guard positions. While moving Mimms to RT may improve the size of the line, I’m not sure it will help to improve the skill level. In the preseason, Mimms’ foot speed was way below average, and he often could be seen lunging at defenders.
If the Chiefs draft Reiff, move Albert inside, keep Asamoah at RG, and advance Rodney Hudson to the starting center position then they would immediately get bigger, stronger, faster, more talented and more athletic. Still, they would have to address the RT position.
It’s hard to see a scenario in which the Chiefs bring back Casey Wiegmann for another season. Is it possible? Yes, but Wiegmann took time this past off season to think things over and many were surprised when he decided to return then. I believe Haley was happy to have him back to help stabilize a group that was already dealing with a short off season. Wiegmann’s performance has suffered this year and when the Chiefs do their year-end evaluations, it should be clear it’s time for the Chiefs to move on without him. Wiegmann has had an outstanding career but doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame or even in the Hall of Fame conversation. As good as he has been in years past, it is a negative for the overall state of the offensive line, simply because the 2011 Chiefs have a 38-year-old starting center who obviously doesn’t fit into the future plans that the Chiefs have for the team.
Hudson has been getting reps at the guard positions and, much as Asamoah did the previous season, his experience is preparing him for a starting role in 2012. If the Chiefs don’t see Hudson as being capable then they will need to move swiftly in the off season to sign a free agent who can fill that void. I don’t think the Chiefs will go that route because they wouldn’t continue giving Hudson reps if they didn’t see his potential, progress and eventually have plans for him.
Either way, if the Chiefs do draft Reiff (or someone of his caliber like Jonathan Martin), move Albert inside, start Maneri and Asamoah, then the weakest position would probably be the center position. Why? Because we don’t actually know yet whether or not Hudson can hold down the fort there. And, at 6-2, 299, he would be the smallest offensive lineman by far.
I have not been a supporter of moving Albert in the past, but I think that ship has sailed and it’s time to move on from expecting him to perform at a position he is probably not best suited to perform at.
With an OL line-up of: LT Reiff, LG Albert, C Hudson, RG Asamoah and RT Maneri, the Chiefs would have a strong unit that would not only be very good in pass protection, but give Jamaal Charles all the run blocking he needs to return to the top of the league in rushing.
Offensive tackles Matt Khalil and Jonathan Martin both often rate out higher than Reiff, but both will most likely be off the board by the time the Chiefs pick, simply because we can’t take victories off the board. Some draft boards rate Reiff higher than Martin.
Reiff may turn out to be the best OT out of all of them in the long run. He has a nasty streak and has three years of starting experience at Iowa against some of the best competition in the nation. When Riley was a sophomore, he matched up well against Cameron Heyward who is now being developed by the Steelers. The only player I have seen that gave Reiff a challenge is Aldon Smith from Missouri whose long arms kept Reiff from locking him up consistently. But that was when Reiff was a sophomore.
If the Chiefs can draft Riley Reiff he would be an impact player who is able to step in immediately and make a big difference in the way the Chiefs reconstruct their offensive line. If that happens, the offense would take one giant leap forward.
Jon Asamoah has become a solid addition to the line-up. I’m not going to spend time evaluating Asamoah except to say he is in the Chiefs’ future plans at guard and should continue to be for years to come.
It’s time for the Chiefs to move on without Barry Richardson. I would rather that Scott Pioli makes some moves to secure a journeyman back-up for the tackle positions instead of keeping BRich to do that job. Almost every time I isolate Richardson to evaluate him, I find negatives. Too many to re-hash now. His time is done. I hope the Chiefs let him go at the end of this year.
I broke down some tape from Sunday night’s game with the Steelers and the news for Barry Richardson is not good. It was difficult for me to find plays that I would rate him as having a positive result instead of a negative one. It’s time to say good-bye to Barry.
And so, I project Steve Maneri as having a better chance to succeed than Richardson.
Steve Maneri? I know what you’re thinking. I’m moving Maneri into a starting role without knowing anything about him. Actually, I know that he was an undrafted free agent out of Temple who signed with the Houston Texans in 2010, later picked up by the Patriots and plucked by the Chiefs off of their practice squad earlier this year.
Steve Maneri represents an option. He’s the option we have available this offseason. So, he may possibly end up being the best option.
If he is the option the Chiefs go with, then there will be another unproven player along the line.
If not, then the Chiefs will likely be fishing in the free agent pool. An important move for the Chiefs to make this offseason is to find an offensive lineman who can be an impact player. Not necessarily one that’s better than every other OL they now employ, but one that’s very good and can come in and make a difference in both the running game and pass protection.
Simply replacing their worst lineman (Richardson) with one who is very good… could be huge for the team’s development. Can you imagine what the Chiefs RBs and WRs could accomplish with good run blocking and solid pass protection?
It looks like the Chiefs need two such impact players along the offensive line. Especially if they intend on competing for an NFL title at some point during this decade.
If the Chiefs get two, it’s probable that one of those will come via free agency. In the past three years, the kind of free agents that the Chiefs have signed have been low profile or could be characterized as “on a shoestring” type of players. After all, the Chiefs continue to massage some of the biggest cap muscles of any team in the NFL. Muscles they, so far, refuse to use.
While you’d hope they will sign a top talent lineman, like they did in Willie Roaf, it doesn’t seem likely if you’ve taken Chiefs History 101. Aside from Roaf, the Chiefs OL FA history book has very few pages in it.
The challenge is, there’s a very small list of high quality free agent offensive linemen who will be available starting around March 1st, 2012.
G Carl Nicks (27) Saints
G Ben Grubbs (28) Ravens
C Nick Hardwick (30) Chargers
OT Kareem McKenzie (33) Giants
G Bobbie Williams (34) Bengals
McKenzie and Williams don’t appear to be likely choices based upon their age. Players from division foes usually don’t sign with division opponents so, Hardwick doesn’t seem like much of a possibility (although, the Chargers are expected to make some changes this off season). That leaves Grubbs and Nicks. Nicks is considered one of the prize free agents this coming offseason and to sign him, it will take more than a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. Forget the Patriot way. That’s just never been Pioli’s way.
The Chiefs have become very comfortable signing ex-Ravens so, if there’s any way they can lock up Ben Grubbs, he’s the man. But, that’s a pretty big if.
Improving the offensive line doesn’t exclusively improve the run game and the passing game, it also improves game planning and defensive performance. Ask anyone who plays defense for the Colts if Peyton Manning’s presence has an effect on their side of the ball. By “pimping” the OL the Chiefs will sustain more drives, create more first downs, increase time of possession and generate more trust from the defensive players. I was wondering last Sunday how many of the Chiefs defensive players trusted the Chiefs offense to hold on to the ball… make a first down… and give them the least little break… not to mention put some points on the board. The “I’ve got your back” feeling should not only apply to the defense but the offense too. Over the course of a season, that can make a big difference in team cohesion and consequently, team success.
In the draft, considering the Chiefs’ other needs, they could select a player like CB Morris Claiborne or QB Robert Griffin III or NT Alameda Ta’amu. Each of these players could instantly make the Chiefs better. However, I think it’s an offensive lineman who could have the biggest impact of all.
If the Chiefs want to make the moves that are needed to create a championship-caliber crew on the offensive front, they’ll have their work cut out for them this offseason.
Clearly, choices are needing to be made.