Oct 25, 2008; Madison, WI, USA; Illinois offensive lineman Jeff Allen (71) lines up for a play during the game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin defeated Illinois 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Chiefs' Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson: First Year Contributions (Part One)

After the selection of Dontari Poe with the 11th overall pick, Scott Pioli surprised Chiefs Nation further by taking not one, but two more linemen with the next picks, this time on the offensive side of the ball.

It’s hard to surmise which pick was more surprising. Illinois OT Jeff Allen didn’t get much media coverage before the draft, but do you know who did? C Peter Konz and OT Mike Adams, both of whom were still available. “C’MON, PIOLI! Who is this guy?” cried Chiefs Nation. And the internet exploded killing hundreds and severely injuring thousands as Chiefs fans scoured the message boards everywhere lamenting the passing of Konz and Adams, and trying to find out just who Jeff Allen is (true story).

But then Pioli goes and drafts Donald Stephenson in Round 3. Okay; he’s a home boy and was invited to the Chiefs’ local pro day, at least we know who he is. But didn’t most pundits predict him to go in the 5th Round, some as early as round 4 to be fair, but more than that as late as Round 6?!?

“Scotty, you got some ‘splainin’ to do”

With the exception of the pass rushing variety and the automatic-upgrade-to-any-team variety, linemen are not sexy draft picks. They’re just not. Linemen are like most businesses’ support staffs: if they do their job well, they run the risk of going unnoticed and their talents taken for granted, so only when they falter are they guaranteed to get attention. But also like support staffs, their success is vital in keeping things running like a well-oiled machine.

As we learned shortly after the pick, Jeff Allen played throughout his entire college career, starting at RT and making the move to LT shortly thereafter, and earning awards, honors and mentions all along his way. Allen is projected to ultimately supplant Ryan Lilja at LG, a move not uncommon when college players turn pro (just this year the League even saw a veteran make the move when PIT moved Willie Colon, formerly a T, to G for the upcoming season). A move like this tends to be less mentally taxing on a player than you might think. Whereas D-Linemen can succeed well knowing their own individual assignment and trusting their teammates to know theirs, O-Linemen succeed best when they know not just their individual blocking assignment, but also the assignments of the guys beside them… Oh! Also their mirror counterparts at the other end of the line.

Whether you’ve only played football in video games or played physically at some level in your life, you should probably know that when a play is added to the offensive playbook it’s actually added twice: one the way the play was originally drawn up, and the other, the mirror image of that play. Usually something minute in the play call tells the players which way the play’s going. [Ex: Say a run play’s called the “25 Pitch”. The play calling system we’re using might be that the “5” in “25” means the pitch is going to the left. If the play’s called as “26 Pitch”, the “6” would mean it’s going to the right.] When looking at the play in its original and in its reverse, the change in WR routes and/or RB assignments is usually pretty noticeable between the two versions. What might be overlooked, or not even considered without thinking, is that blocking assignments change between the two as well. It’s beneficial to an OL to not just know what they’re doing individually on one version of the play, but also what their mirror counterparts are doing on the other side, because they’ll be expected to do the same when the play’s called in the opposite direction. Bear in mind, this is also while knowing what blocking assignments the man next to you in line will be required to make. Ultimately, the best OLs wind up knowing what everyone’s assignments on the line are, because it’s kind of important.

The real consideration when an OL changes position is whether or not they have the physical tools to make the transition.

Cs can be a little bit smaller than their fellow linemen, as their blocking assignments will often involve assisting a G on a block, picking up a smaller blitzer (read: LB or S) or (in runs up the gut) blocking a LB downfield (also called “on the next level”). Plus, the half a moment it takes to snap the ball is a half a moment during which your teammates have already engaged in their blocks (so making a C’s assignment to be to assist a G on a block or pick up a blitzer makes sense, as these things can wait a half moment).

Gs, working between the C and a T, can have a little less side-to-side foot quickness than, say, Ts, but should count forward moving speed as one of their greatest assets as they’ll be required to, often enough, break from the line on a pull or a trap.

Ts, not necessarily having someone to their outer side (if no TE is lined up), benefit most from side-to-side foot quickness as there’s a whole open field on the outer side of them that they absolutely must be able to defend. I hear that the failure to do this is called “Barry the Bullfighter Syndrome” around these parts.

Jeff Allen will face no greater mental obstacles as a G then he would have as a T, and he’s got the forward speed to succeed at the position. Supplanting Lilja as the starter is a question of not if, but when this year. Allen will see his fair amount of plays, for sure; whether it’s providing relief for Lilja or Asamoah for a spell, or whether it’s Hudson who needs a breather (at which point Lilja has center experience and would likely move over, leaving the G spot open for Allen). How Allen fairs in these moments will determine when he supplants Lilja. Yes, Asamoah spent a year behind Brian Waters. Waters was a multi-time Pro Bowler; Lilja is not. And yes, Hudson spent a year behind Weigmann, who only boasts one Pro Bowl selection… but Wiegmann was one of the smartest Cs in the league and should’ve had more Pro Bowl berths; Lilja doesn’t quite compare there either.
In short? Don’t chalk Allen up as a benchwarmer/relief player all year on the notion that Pioli & Co. like to sit first-year linemen; if Allen proves himself to be clearly the better of the two, he will start before season’s end.

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