Kansas City Chiefs: Is coaching and continuity enough?

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 4: Head Coach Andy Reid (L) of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Alex Smith
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 4: Head Coach Andy Reid (L) of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Alex Smith /
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KANSAS CITY, MO – OCTOBER 25: Offensive linemen Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
KANSAS CITY, MO – OCTOBER 25: Offensive linemen Laurent Duvernay-Tardif /

There may not be a single position more likely (or more in need) to improve based on continuity than the offensive line. While the offensive line was not horrible last season, it certainly wasn’t a strength of the team either. The line was, if I’m being honest, mediocre. Alex Smith wasn’t getting sacked left and right and running for his life on every throw, but I also wouldn’t say that he had all day to sit in the pocket and find his man either. The same could be said for the running game as well. The line wasn’t consistently opening up massive holes that the running backs could shoot through for massive gains, but at the same time they weren’t constantly hit in the backfield before they ever got a chance to get going.

At the end of the day the 2016 Kansas City offensive line was pretty forgettable. I won’t think back on it with horror like I do the lines of days past that featured Mike McGlynn or Chris Terry. I also won’t think back on it with the fondness that I do lines of the past that featured dominant performances by Will Shields and Willie Roaf. The 2016 offensive line was, for lack of a better term, pretty “meh”. If a team features a star running back like Barry Sanders you can get by with “meh”. If a team has a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers you can get by with “meh”. When a team has a “game manager” like Alex Smith at quarterback and a “workman-like” running back like Spencer Ware leading the rushing attack, you really need more than a “meh” offensive line if the offense is going to consistently move the ball.

The Chiefs are returning all seven of the offensive linemen that played a significant role in 2016. The starters will once again be Eric Fisher, Parker Ehinger, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and Mitchell Schwartz with Jah Reid and Zach Fulton coming off the bench. Of all the positions in football the one where you probably hear about continuity being the most important is the offensive line. These guys must work as a cohesive group and be able to depend on each other and know how the others are going to react to every situation if the line is going to be successful. It certainly can’t hurt for the Chiefs to go into training camp with the same projected starting five (and top seven overall) as were in place to start last season. I was trying to think of the last time that was the case for the Chiefs and I had problems coming up with the answer (would it have been the Vermeil era?).

While continuity could certainly lead to improved communication and teamwork across the offensive line the Chiefs would also benefit from some of the individual linemen improving their play. While NFL players don’t usually drastically improve from one season to the next it is normal for players to improve with experience, especially younger players that are still developing. The good news for the Chiefs is that several of their linemen are young developing players. In fact, all seven of their core offensive line are under the age of thirty with Jah Reid being the oldest at 28 years old. In fact, Fisher, Ehinger, Morse, LDT, and Fulton are all 26 years old or younger.

If the Kansas City Chiefs are going to make a noticeable improvement on offense based on continuity and player development it is most likely to come from improved offensive line play. John Dorsey has completely rebuilt this offensive line since he took the team over four years ago. He clearly has “his guys” now and trusts in the combination of their abilities and Andy Reid and his coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of them. If he is right and this young offensive line group improves from “meh” to a solid and dependable unit it should make a noticeable difference in both the running and passing game.

Now what about the defense?