I hate to be the bearer of bad news so early in the day, but there’s something I think you should know. The Kansas City Chiefs have the youngest offensive line in the National Football League. On its face, that might not be jarring, but I think there’s reason for pause. Two of those five players are assuming new roles (Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson). A third is a new starter who also happens to be a rookie (Zach Fulton). Fisher and Stephenson both played significant snaps in 2013, but they’re still learning what it is to be offensive linemen in the NFL. It’s not time to panic, but according to Pro Football Focus, all five starting offensive lineman received a negative pass protection grade Sunday night in Charlotte.
Here are the three players I believe will factor into the growth/shrinkage of this offense in the 2014 regular season (in no particular order):
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and the protector of Alex Smith’s blind side, Eric Fisher is sure to be the focal point of the group. He’s got big shoes to fill as Branden Albert’s successor. The good news is he’s among the most talented members of the offensive line. The bad news is he’s coming off of two offseason surgeries and an inconsistent training camp. Fisher struggled with Greg Hardy the other night, but in fairness, Hardy’s a tough assignment for any left tackle to draw. He’s posted 26 sacks for the Panthers over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, it’s what the job calls for and he’ll have more of the league’s premier passrushers to look forward to this season.
A year ago, as the team’s starting right tackle, Fisher underachieved as a pass protector. He surrendered seven sacks and PFF gave him a -13.3 pass blocking grade. He was better as a run blocker, but still among the worst in the draft class (-6.5 grade). Part of his problem is a weak left side and not enough strength at the point-of-attack. He needed to get stronger over the offseason and there’s some concern that he may not have done that, having gone under the knife twice in the past six months. If he doesn’t adapt quickly, we could see Alex Smith running for his life and football future in 2014.
In May, Kansas City selected the former Volunteer with one of two sixth-round draft picks. In just three months, he’s all but locked up the starting job at right guard. Rishaw Johnson was believed to be the prohibitive favorite at that spot, but Fulton has taken the lionshare of first team reps. He’s made two straight starts in the preseason and should be in the driver’s seat heading into the home opener with Tennessee. While he’s leading the pack at his position, he still looks like a first year player overall. In Sunday night’s matchup with Carolina, he received a -4.6 grade from PFF.
The game with the Panthers proved to be tough for Fulton. He negated one screen play to Knile Davis when he was penalized for holding. On another screen play, Fulton labored to get out in front of the ballcarrier and block his man. He was unable to get there and it ultimately resulted in no gain. Fulton’s anything but graceful in the open field. Andy Reid likes offensive linemen who can pull and take on defenders 5-10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. That’s simply not his game yet and he’s likely to struggle in that area. Fortunately for the offense, Reid has the option to scheme around him. For now, the key for Fulton will be winning at the point both as a run blocker and in pass protection.
Mr. Allen, on the off-chance that you’re reading this, you won’t like what I’m about to say. Please accept my heartfelt apology in advance. You are by far the worst starting offensive lineman the Kansas City Chiefs have. I’m shocked Allen was able to ward off Geoff Schwartz for basically all of the 2013 season. He isn’t particularly strong or athletic. Carolina defensive tackle Star Lotulelei made that painfully clear on Sunday. In the second quarter of the game, Lotulelei destroyed Allen on his way to sacking Alex Smith.
Jeff Allen trained with two-time Pro Bowler LeCharles Bentley in the offseason. The front office and coaching staff are counting on that experience to improve Allen’s play in 2014. Last year, he logged a -12 PFF grade and looked like the team’s biggest liability on the offensive line. Fans can at least be encouraged that Allen has interest in becoming a better football player. He used his own money to attend the L. Bentley O-Line Academy.
Here’s your chance to share your own opinions. Are Fisher, Allen, and Fulton the three biggest obstacles to better offensive line play in 2014? Who are you most concerned with in the o-line group? Can Jeff Allen turn the corner and become a reliable left guard for Kansas City? Will Fulton ever learn to effectively pull on the other side? Use the comment section below to chime in. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.
Until next time, Addicts!
Tags: Kansas City Chiefs