Monday evening, I had the pleasure to sit down with Kansas City Chiefs starting right offensive tackle, Eric Winston. Although Eric informed me that the players have been instructed by the front office to not discuss the pending Alex Smith trade until in becomes final, we had plenty to talk about with everything else going on in the Sea of Red.
The first issue we discussed was the huge news that broke just after 3 p.m. on Monday. That news, of course, heralded the return of Dwayne Bowe and Dustin Colquitt to the ranks of “under contract” players and placed the franchise tag on Eric’s left-side counterpart, Branden Albert. I asked Eric what his reaction was to the news of Bowe and Colquitt’s contracts and Albert being named the 2013 franchise player.
“I think it’s great. They have all been Chiefs from day one. I think when you’re building the team, you have to reward the guys who have been there and been through the struggle. You can’t underscore what that does for the locker room. The other guys take notice that [the Chiefs organization] are taking care of other guys. Anytime you do that, it bodes well for you down the road.”
Since Eric brought up the new Chiefs leadership, I asked him what he thought about them. It’s obvious Andy Reid and John Dorsey had a plan when they arrived in Kansas City, and they are executing it with near military precision. I asked Eric if he’d met the new “general,” Andy Reid.
“He seems like a guy who had a plan and he’s going to enjoy the fresh start. He’s going to do a lot of good things here.”
On that same vein, I asked Eric if he thought his new head coach’s playbook would involve a significantly different blocking scheme than he was used to. Remember, Eric was brought on last year, in part, because of his familiarity with the zone-blocking scheme. Although Eric said he hadn’t seen an actual playbook yet, he did have this to say about Reid’s offense:
“In Philly they did a lot of zone blocking there as well having LeSean McCoy. Sometimes they went to power blocking, but that was just out of necessity. It’s all about knowing your personnel and it will be interesting to see what they come up with and what fits the best for us.”
The next question I posed to Eric is one that is on everybody’s mind right now. Many fans thought the Chiefs would draft Geno Smith with the #1 pick. Then the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith. Then everybody thought the pick would be LT Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M. Now the Chiefs have tagged Branden Albert. At this point, nobody really knows who the Chiefs are going to draft come April 25th. I asked Eric, if he was the general manager, whose name he would send up to Roger Goodell on the stage in New York City.
“You know, it’s a very hard question in the sense that you know it’s going to cost your buddies one of their jobs. So it’s very tough for me to say oh, let’s go take a DB or let’s go take a left tackle or let’s go take a running back, because you know what that means. There’s only 53 spots so that means someone’s out of here.”
This is something that fans don’t really think about, but these men are a team. They are a unit from year to year, season to season and when new faces come in, others fade away. Eric put it best when he said that he doesn’t really like to get caught up in it.
“It’s our job to just blend together well and work together.”
This brought us to talking about young talent on the team. One thing that most Chiefs fans can agree on is, while it seems that Scott Pioli didn’t draft defensive linemen very well, the offensive linemen he drafted seem to be picking up the game and playing well rather quickly. One in particular is Donald Stephenson. He started the year as Branden Albert and Eric Winston’s understudy at offensive tackle, but was thrust into a starting role with Albert’s late season injury. I asked Eric how he thought Stephenson was coming along as pro.
“I think your first year is a huge learning curve. You have to learn how to practice; you have to learn how to be a pro. That’s not just year one, but that’s year two and three. You can see his skills come along. He’s got a lot of great skills. He could be a heck of a player in this league, but I think at the same time he’s going to have to keep developing.”
Eric went on to say that the “biggest jump would be from year one to year two,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. In not just talking about offensive linemen, but professional football players in general, how many times have we witnessed that “sophomore slump?”
“I think what kind of work he puts in the off season, what kind of work he puts in at OTAs and camp this year will probably determine what kind of player he’s going to be in his career.”
Along those same lines I wanted to hear Eric’s thoughts on the rest of the offensive line. I asked him what kind of future he saw for the Chiefs’ front five; if it was bright or dismal. He had only optimism for the direction the line was headed. He started off praising two of the younger members of the line in center, Rodney Hudson and guard/tackle, Jeff Allen.
“I didn’t get a whole lot of time to watch Rodney [Hudson] because he got hurt, but the guy has a great anchor, but he’s still mobile enough to move around and do things he’s got to do, but he can get down and pick up the pass rush. I think Jeff Allen’s got a lot of talent. You’re looking at a guy that the sky’s the limit. He’s got a nasty attitude, but in a good way.”
His highest praise though, was reserved for right guard, Jon Asamoah.
“Jon Asamoah is a guy who is very underrated in this league. He’s going to be a heck of a right guard for a long time. He’s got everything you want from toughness to smarts and he can strike. He’s going to get better and that’s saying something, because I already think he’s pretty damn good.”
These words were quite encouraging coming from someone who plays next to these young and upcoming stars every game. In fact, I told Eric this was refreshing to hear, especially for Chiefs fans who remember the days of Willie Roaf, Casey Wiegeman, Will Shields and Brian Waters. Eric laughed and then said in all seriousness that “that was probably the best offensive line in the history of football.” And he meant it. We know the current Chiefs’ O-Line isn’t there yet, but if the young talent is as good as the veteran right tackle thinks, who knows. To use his words, “the sky’s the limit.”
Our conversation next turned to AFC West opponents. I was curious who Eric thought was the toughest division rival to block against. Without hesitation, he told me it was the Denver Broncos.
“As a tackle having to go against Von Miller and [Elvis] Dumerville all day is tough. It’s like going against the Colts when I played for Houston.”
In talking about his time at Houston, we discussed the fact that he’s blocked for two of the most explosive and arguably the best running backs in the NFL in Arian Foster with Texans and now our beloved Jamaal Charles with the Chiefs. I asked him to compare the two backs in running styles and describe the difference.
“Jamaal is a speedster and he’s so explosive. When he hits the open field, he hits it and he is gone. A lot of those guys [running backs] with this body type don’t like the contact. He does a great job of if there are only four yards to get, he goes and gets those four yards.”
Eric then spoke about Arian Foster in contrast to Jamaal Charles, describing him as a bigger, more fluid back and a strider. Regardless, and he may be biased, but he went on to say he didn’t think there was “anyone as fast as [Charles] in the league.”
Next, I tried to go all controversial and asked Eric about a statement, directed towards Branden Albert, made by general manager John Dorsey saying:
“Who’s to say both of those guys are locked in to playing left tackle? Maybe one plays left guard, center, right guard, right tackle. You put your best five offensive linemen out there. There are so many options out there right now. Anything is possible.’’
I wanted to get Eric’s take on this. His answer was exactly what I thought it would be.
“I think that’s easier said than done. It all looks good on paper, but some of us don’t play well at those positions.”
I got the distinct impression from him that it was a matter of pride with him and his fellow linemen. Tackles are tackles and guards are guards and unless your hand is forced, you don’t move around. I guess we’ll see what happens with the draft on April 25th.
Our conversation then turned to Eric’s friend, the much maligned Matt Cassel. Although Eric wasn’t allowed to discuss the impending trade, he can see the same writing on the wall as everyone else. Matt most likely won’t be in Kansas City next year; at least not as a Chief. For that matter, Brady Quinn who was “the other” starting quarterback last year likely won’t be in a Chiefs jersey either as he becomes an unrestricted free agent next Tuesday. A team losing one leader is one thing, but this team will probably be starting from scratch as far as on-field leadership goes. I asked Eric how that can affect a team and the dynamic involved.
“Ideally you always want to draft a guy or get a guy early on, like we did in Houston with Schaub. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way and guys have to rally around whoever’s out there. I think it’s Coach Reid’s and John Dorsey’s job to go find that guy and it’s our job to rally around him and be there for him.”
At this point, I felt like I had drilled Eric enough. He was gracious enough to call me at my home and take time out of his life to talk to me. I figured I would end the interview with a question from my daughter. She wanted to know Eric’s favorite color. The kid loves the Ray Lewis commercial and thought it was cool that I was interviewing a football player. It’s maroon, by the way.
Eric and I finished our phone conversation with him asking me about my military service and where I had been stationed. He was part of the NFL branch of the USO tour last year and he traveled to Afghanistan to visit my deployed brothers and sisters in arms. Even more than taking time to give me an interview, the fact that he took time out of his life to travel to the other side of the world gave him even more “status” in my eyes. From start to finish with this interview process, Eric Winston has been a 100 percent class act.
I’m not sure where the Chiefs are headed this year. After everything the team has been through in the last few years, who knows what’s in store. I predicted an 11-5 season last year with one playoff win and we see where that got me. One thing I do know is that with “the old Warhorses” like Eric Winston and Branden Albert holding down the offensive line with all the upcoming stars inbetween, the Chiefs do indeed have a bright future. My optimism is rapidly rising. It is clear that Andy Reid and John Dorsey have a plan and they are executing. It is a “win now” versus “build for later” attitude. Regardless, this season should be very interesting to watch, and our Chiefs may just win a few games along the way. The Sea of Red is back, the warriors out front are led by Eric Winston and Branden Albert and I’m good with that.
That’s how I see it Addicts. What say you?