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Reliance On Kansas City's Young Offensive Lions

The Kansas City Chiefs are tasked with finding answers just one year after fielding the league’s worst offense in 2012. Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel, Brian Daboll, and Matt Cassel were the four pillars of the 32nd-ranked scoring offense in the NFL. Those days are now behind the organization and the team is looking to forge a new offensive identity.

Coaches are anxious to get to St. Joseph and see their offensive installments in live training camp action. Players are brimming with confidence over increased roles and new offensive possibilities. Even the national talking heads have gushed over Andy Reid’s 2013 plans for the offense. The sky truly is the limit, right? While I hate to be a buzzkill, I believe Kansas City’s offensive line may be reason for concern.

The Chiefs have a lot of young offensive talent along the line, but they also have just as much inexperience. When training camp opens later this month (on July 26th), the Chiefs could have as many as four starting offensive linemen under the age of 26. Only two of those four (Jon Asamoah and Jeff Allen) have made more than four NFL starts. When you factor in Rodney Hudson’s 2013 campaign to return from a season-ending knee injury and Eric Fisher’s year one learning curve, you realize that offensive change may come later than Chiefs Kingdom expects.

Branden Albert and Jon Asamoah are the rock solid cast members of Kansas City’s offensive line. Albert is one of the ten best left tackles in the league. He’s so valuable to this football team that general manager John Dorsey used the franchise tag to retain him for 2013. The relationship between Albert and the team was tense earlier in the offseason, but reports say he and the team will soon resume negotiations on a long-term deal. Asamoah is already an above-average starter who can become an elite right guard if he continues to progress. Their presence up front helps me sleep at night. The rest of the offensive line isn’t quite as comforting.

Last year, rookie Jeff Allen made 13 starts for the Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, his level of play was mostly unimpressive. Pro Football Focus ranked rookie Jeff Allen as the 79th-best guard in the league (out of 81). Allen still has plenty of room left to grow, but he’s not much of a solution for the Chiefs at this stage in his career. Free agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz might be a better option at left guard for now. Schwartz is a three-year veteran of the NFL who’s received favorable PFF grades throughout his short career. He received a +5.8 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2012. In his only season as a full-time starter (2010), he had a +19.3 grade.

Rodney Hudson is believed to be Kansas City’s incumbent at center. There were early concerns that he wouldn’t be healthy enough to start the 2013 season, but those fears were allayed when he stepped onto the field for the first organized team activities in April. Hudson won’t have much competition for the job. Sixth-round pick Eric Kush doesn’t pose much of a threat to him. There’ve been a few reports that suggest Kush has struggled mightily throughout the offseason. Hudson played well in his three starts last season (earning a +4.6 grade from PFF). That’s still too small a sample size to come to any concrete conclusions about where he is as a center. For now, the jury’s still out on Rodney Hudson.

Eric Fisher, Kansas City’s 1st-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has all of the God-given talent in the world. He’s the kind of prospect that helps a 2-14 team get better in a hurry. Fisher is NFL-ready and has one of the most striking skillsets of any offensive lineman in the draft class. That being said, Jon Baldwin has taught us that a first-round draft grade, athleticism, and potential don’t always yield immediate success. Fisher needs time to get adjusted to the NFL game. I believe he’ll be a perennial Pro Bowler in time, but for now he’s still an unproven commodity.

I’d like to believe in this group, but I have very real concerns about their lack of experience. Kansas City’s offensive potential has been assumed, but not much has been said about how important the success of the offensive line is to Andy Reid’s big picture. Alex Smith has always preferred being sacked to throwing an interception. Any weakness in Kansas City’s pass protection serves to interrupt the timing of the passing game. That works out to longer third-down situations and lower conversion rates.

Jamaal Charles has always been the kind of runningback who can succeed with or without stellar line play, but he’s been at his best with real holes to run through. Charles can score from anywhere on the field, but he’s most dangerous when he can get through the first level of defenders cleanly. Remember the 91-yard touchdown that sparked a huge comeback against the New Orleans Saints? The run blocking on that play was superb. Branden Albert absolutely mauled his man on the sweep. Hopefully the offensive line has more of that in store for 2013.

The Chiefs need the offensive line to gel quickly and make the most of each training camp rep. Here’s hoping that the young members of Kansas City’s offensive line mature sooner rather than later. The Chiefs start the season with three games in just eleven days (two of which are on the road). They’ll need to be sharp to start the regular season if they want to keep pace in the race for an AFC wildcard berth.

If it were up to me, my offensive line starters would be:

LT Albert – LG Schwartz – C Hudson – RG Asamoah – RT Fisher

Use the comment section below to weigh in on the topic. What five players would you pick to be your starting offensive line? As always, we encourage and appreciate your feedback here at AA!

Until next time, Addicts!

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