November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; General view of the line of scrimmage as Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson (61) prepares to snap the football during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A Positive Look At The Kansas City Chiefs’ Offensive Line Situation

In this week’s AAMA I pointed out that the offensive line is one of the biggest areas of concern after the draft, particularly in terms of depth. The losses of Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, and Jon Asamoah have taken away the the Chiefs swing tackle (Donald Stephenson) who will not have to start at right tackle and depleted the Chiefs’ interior offensive lineman depth. It’s an obvious point of concern.

This doesn’t not mean the offensive line is a dumpster fire. The narrative surrounding the Chiefs’ offensive line has gotten a little too far away from the reality of the situation. Yes, there are concerns, but there are some positives along the line that have been boosted by the developments from the draft. These positive notes should push feelings about the offensive line towards neutral as opposed to panic.

One place to start is… starts. The lazy thing for commentators to say about the Chiefs is they lost three starters along the offensive line. This is true in the sense Albert, Schwartz, and Asamoah did start games, but this is a misleading statement. Kansas City is actually returning more starts from 2013 along the offensive line (49) than they are losing (28). The combination of Stephenson, Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen, and Rodney Hudson started three of the final four games the Chiefs played in the regular season. Further, Hudson, Allen, and Fisher finished as the top three offensive linemen in total snaps while Stephenson played only six fewer snaps than Schwartz.

There is something to be said about returning three of the four offensive linemen who registered 800 snaps or more from them previous season. This isn’t a complete rebuild job like last season when the Chiefs lost a combine 2,108 snaps between Ryan Lilja and Eric Winston* plus were returning Hudson off injury. Hudson, if you recall, had started only four games in his career entering 2013.

Even with the lost talent it is not as if the Chiefs’ line will be full of scrubs. Between Fisher (1), Allen (44), Hudson (55), and Stephenson (74) the Chiefs will have four players drafted in the top 75 picks of their class on the offensive line. This is a significant amount of resources and talent poured into the offensive line. Kansas City isn’t replacing Albert with a sixth round developmental pick but with the first overall pick in his class. Right tackle will be occupied by a a guy who some thought would be a fringe first round pick if he had stayed in school another year. There is still a lot of talent on the line even with the losses.

Adding to the experience and the talent positives, this is the first time this group of talent will be playing together in consecutive seasons. For once the Chiefs will not be heading into the summer learning a new scheme are getting to know a new head coach. Not only did the new offensive line of 2013 have to learn who they were lining up next to but they also had to learn where they were supposed to go and who they were supposed to block. Everything was new.

2014 will be a lot different. Again, four returning members of the offensive line, same scheme, same quarterback, same general manager, same head coach, same offensive coordinator, same offensive line coach. There is more reason to think the Chiefs will be building on their offensive line than re-building. Plug in a new right guard, flip Stephenson and Fisher and there really isn’t too much change.

Add to the mix what John Dorsey brought in over the offseason. Jeff Linkenbach has experience starting a both left and right tackle in addition to starting games at right and left guard. He’s doesn’t have the upside of Schwartz, but he’s a valuable and versatile player.

Zach Fulton was a three-year starter for Tennessee at a position of need for the Chiefs. Assuming he can grasp the offense quickly, he’s physically capable of being a plug-and-play right guard for the Chiefs. If not, Rishaw Johnson or Linkenbach are capable stopgaps until Fulton is ready.

Then there’s the Canadian kid, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who some project will be the Chiefs starting right tackle a year or two from now. Everything being said about him leads one to believe the Chiefs got a steal in LDT so long as they willing to take the time to develop him. So between Fulton and LDT there is reason to think the Chiefs have two future starters on their bench.

Compare this situation to the one the Chiefs were facing a year ago and the perspective changes. As mentioned earlier the Chiefs lost over 2,000 snaps between Winston and Lilja, who were rated as the top two offensive lineman for the Chiefs in 2012 by Pro Football Focus, and were breaking in a new center in Hudson. Additionally, their left guard, Allen, was entering just his second season in the NFL and was playing guard for the just the second season in his life. Albert was coming off injury and a contract dispute that nearly led him to be traded. And the best interior backup lineman on the roster, Schwartz, had played only 160 snaps over the past two seasons.

Throw into all of that the new coaching staff, new scheme, and new management, a rookie right tackle who was coming into the league unpolished, and the knowledge that their best offensive lineman was going to be a free agent at the end of the season.

No, the offensive line situation for 2014 is not perfect. We don’t know if a move to the left side means better performance from Fisher or what the Chiefs plan to do if either Fisher or Stephenson get hurt. There are signs of optimism for Allen but his first two years in the league have not been good. And there is the obvious question of what will happen at right guard. All of these are valid concerns.

However, the Chiefs are better off now than they were a year ago, even with all of the departures. Dorsey proved he can find value in the free agent market to add depth to the offensive line and Andy Reid proved he can maximize the talent he has available to him on the roster. The sum of talent may not be substantially better than a year ago but it is not worse. With the mixture of experience and consistency, the Chiefs should be fine in 2014.

*For comparison sake: Albert, Asamoah, and Schwartz combined to play in 2,022 snaps in 2013.  

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  • Stacy D. Smith

    Good work, Ben!

    I think the one thing that might affect what this offensive line can be is Fisher and Stephenson swapping spots. They’re going to need some time to adjust to new roles. Left tackle is Fisher’s natural position, but he hasn’t spent much time there in the NFL. Most of Stephenson’s snaps have come on the opposite side as well.

  • berttheclock

    Great piece, Ben.

    What takes time for rookies trying to play O-line in the NFL is the vast difference of moves put on by the pros over players they faced in college, no matter the level of college play. Wiser and older pros have more moves.

    The other thing about developing o-lines is the continuity players need to get used to working together. The Chiefs have excellent assistant coaches to develop the new guys and mold them into a solid unit. The word on Fulton is he is coachable and Larry D-F has a fine football IQ about learning. That is why after the sixth round, I felt much stronger about the rebuilding of the O-line.

    • Ben Nielsen

      If the Chiefs walk away with two starting offensive linemen from this year’s sixth round then that’s a massive win for Dorsey.

  • freshmeat62

    Maybe I should be concerned about the o-line, but for some reason I’m not. It’s a very young line, but they’re all learning together, and I think the continuity you mentioned in that one paragraph will help tremendously. My biggest concern is Fisher’s surgery, and him being set back in his off season conditioning, building more muscle and strength that he was lacking. I think he’ll handle the LT position as well, if not better, than Albert.

  • Merlin_Arrowhead_Addict

    As Stacy pointed out, Fisher and Stephenson are swapping sides. Add a new Right Guard and you are talking about 60% of your line being different. How they all come together is very important.

    • Ben Nielsen

      Sure. But Fisher is going to his natural side and Stephenson started three games at RT last season. It isn’t all entirely new. We’ve seen positive results from Stephenson on the right side before.

      I’d rather deal with this situation than have three new offensive lineman who’ve never played together before.

      • unclejesse40

        Another positive is that if these guys all pan out they will have several more years of playing together before they start leaving via free agency.

  • berttheclock

    One thing forgotten by many was the learning curve last year by our center. He had to hit running on calling the defensive shout outs to the O-line. Now, he has had a solid year of learning.

    • mnelson52

      That’s a very good point. He was learning on the fly. If I remember right, Hudson played guard the year before and in his limited play allowed zero sacks.

  • Roger Mihalko

    Stephenson, Donald, Fisher, Eric,Dill, R.J., Duvernay-Tardif, Laurent Linkenbach, Jeffrey
    Burden, Chandler

    Watkins, Rokevious

    Johnson, Rishaw

    Allen, Jeff

    • mnelson52

      I thought Linckenbach was a guard.

      • Roger Mihalko

        this is info from chiefs roster on…
        Linkenbach, Jeffrey OT ACT 6’6″ 325 6/9/1987 5 Cincinnati

  • scomstock55

    thank you…. I was trying to say the same thing basically to a bunch of naysayers yesterday on a different forum…we will be fine at the OL…maybe better than last year. If I remember correctly, scoring points wasnt a big issue for us

  • Randall Miller

    Ben, with all do respect….Schwartz solidified the line mid-season and really became a force as the offense became more proficient. Allen’s time this year in boot camp I hope pays off as Fulton has to be considered a contender for the void at RG. Replacing Schwartz will not be an easy task as I feel Linkenbach is not considered a starter and used for injury problems. I would feel incredibly un-easy as him as a starter…no offense but I see that RG position as the problem and Jeff is not the answer. I trust Mr. Dorsey and Coach are doing the right thing here long term and see Zack Fulton as a 10 year fixture on the right side. Tardif would be a bonus!

    • Suzi Conger

      Agree with you Randall; I have no problem with albert and asamoah gone, but letting Schwartz go seems a mistake…I think Alex is going to feel the pain, lol. PFF graded Schwartz the highest at +10 while stephenson and allen received negative- grades at season end. PFF also graded the OLine a ‘D’, bottom 10 in the league. Conversely, PFF graded Alex Smith an A+ , as the #1 nfl QB to convert pressures/hits/sacks into plays (25%) which caused our OLine to appear better than they were/are. I’m looking forward to Fish at L, his college beast position, and Rishaw sure looked good in the SD game. Just hope Alex has time to execute (like second half ’13 season) and does not get injured.

      • mnelson52

        I don’t know if Fulton can learn the playbook quick enough to be good competition to Rishaw for the right guard position. Rishaw knows the book pretty well and played very good when given the chance. Maybe by next year Fulton can win the job. He is a mammoth of a guy. What concerns me, is no talk of competition for left guard, and I believe it was our weakest link on the line last year. Maybe Watkins can compete for the job. Maybe even Duvernay-Tardif could learn to play guard as well as tackle. Reid does say he will play his best five linemen.

        • mnelson52

          Not saying Allen is bad, just our weakest link that needs competition.

          • Calchiefsfan

            At times he was bad. I like the fact that he is taking the initiative and going to Bentley’s school. I think that could help him a lot along with a year under his belt in Reid’s system.I’m surprised Johnson didn’t go to Bentley’s school.

          • Suzi Conger

            agreed; I think stephenson attended too? Hopin it helps both of them. It seemed to improve schwartz.

          • Calchiefsfan

            That would be sweet if Allen shows a lot of improvement. Stephenson I think is going to be a stud at RT this year and yes he is attending, (or has already attended this year with Allen).
            Nice to see you back commenting again Suzi. I haven’t seen you a whole lot since the season ended.

          • Suzi Conger

            Thanx Ccf :-) I’ve been posting on several other sites and took some time off while moving to a new home in Santa Cruz… look forward to our ’14 season…concerned with our new/young OLine though, especially vs SF’s D, Hawks’ D,,yada.. will Alex have time to execute (or will our OL be as poor as the 1st half of ’13 season) and/or sustain an injury? Time will tell

          • Suzi Conger


  • Dr. Paine

    The main question from me is how much of a leap can Fisher make. He made strides and played better down the stretch, but frankly, looked skinny and overmatched when opponents used their bull rush and inside power move. The move to the left should only help as that is his natural position and had to reverse everything as a rookie to play RT, no small feat. Dorsey said that Fisher had the best feet and lateral quickness of any tackle coming out in the last decade and was happy to pick him #1 in spite of the obvious poor luck of having that pick sandwiched between the 2012 and 2014 drafts.

    As for RG, I’m not overly concerned as it is the only spot completely up for grabs. I think Rishaw Johnson is the favorite with Linkenback and Fulton behind the 8 ball learning the system and competing for that spot. Again being obsessive, I watched the week 17 SD game and was very impressed with Johnson. He seems comfortable in the blocking scheme, showed good power on drive blocks and looks quick on pulls. He should be ready to roll come training camp. As for RT, Stephenson is one of my favorite unsung heroes. When called upon to come in the game at either spot, he is far from a weak spot.

  • mnelson52

    Are Stephenson, Fisher, Duvernay-Tardif, and Dill the only OTs we have under contract?

  • thabear04

    Eric Krush is a up coming Center who might be a star soon.

    • Calchiefsfan

      I like Kush, he played pretty well in the Charger game. I wonder if he can play guard too?

  • John Moore

    We need a starting guard, and we have no depth at tackle. Chances are that our two starting tackles will miss some starts. If so, what then? There are no Stephensons on the bench now. It’s scary.

  • jimfromkcj

    Ben, the first thing we need to look at is how do we stack up against our division, and right now not very well. Denver got a shot in the arm with the best LT in the division back from injury, They also lost their weakest link to free agency in Beadles. Moved Franklin from RT to LG and took the guy from last year who did a credible job at LT to RT. That off line was rated in the top 5 last year and might very well be the best off line in football if they stay healthy. They also out weigh us by 9 lbs a man. With most of their beef in the middle where it counts. Both the Chargers and the Raiders have rebuilt their off lines with bigger and older players who are on a par with the Chiefs and may be much better during the first half of the season before the youngsters we have settle in. All in all it doesn’t seem to promiceing to me at this time.

    • berttheclock

      Good point about beef in the middle. Trent Baalke of the NIners believes that beef counts in the middle and has just picked up an extra beefy center in the draft. For too long, the middle of the line has been the weakest point for the Chiefs. We have had the worst running record up the gut. The guards have been overwhelmed by bull rushes in pass protection.

  • jimfromkcj

    Sorry Ben, I applaud your enthusiasm, but where Fisher was drafted, has nothing to do with his ability to replace Albert. Albert wasn’t worth what he demanded in salary, but he was head and shoulders better than Fisher at this time. Schawartz is better than any of the replacements. The only seamless replacement would be for Asamoah, as he seemed to be lost in Reid’s style of offence. Allen is as close to a complete bust as you might be able to pick up and Hudson lacks the beef necessary to anchor the off line. All in all, it looks like a long season with Jamal overloaded because the team will be trying to be respectable without a well rounded team. He is a great back, but he has been used sparingly in the past, and I think this management group will overload him without any care for his longevity. They need to win now and they have screwed the pooch with the cap and will want to put up a smoke screen to cover the screw up with a few wins.