Chiefs headed for competition on offensive line

Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey recently discussed the state of the team during a March 18 conference call with beat writers.

Coach Andy Reid had his turn Tuesday at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

Aug 28, 2014; Green Bay, WI; Chiefs offensive tackle Donald Stephenson (79) during the preseason finale against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 28, 2014; Green Bay, WI; Chiefs offensive tackle Donald Stephenson (79) during the preseason finale against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

While Reid touched on a variety of subjects with reporters, arguably the top area of interest surrounded the offensive line after the front five produced a dismal 2014 campaign.

The left side of the offensive line appears set with tackle Eric Fisher and guard Ben Grubbs, whom the Chiefs recently acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

Grubbs’ arrival should settle the left guard position where Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach combined to allow 9 ½ sacks, the most at a single position on the offensive line in 2014. McGlynn and Linkenbach remain unsigned as unrestricted free agents.

“He’s obviously a proven guy in the league, a two-time Pro Bowler,” Reid said of Grubbs with reporters. “He loves to play the game, so we will put him in there at the left guard position and let him go. That’s kind of home for him, that’s where he played. He’s smart, he’s physical. Everybody that I’ve talked to says he’s a phenomenal guy in the locker room.”

Fisher and Grubbs provide stability on quarterback Alex Smith’s blindside, but the right side is heading for a battle royal.

Paul Fanaika will compete at the right guard spot with Zach Fulton, who started all 16 games last year as a rookie.

The 6-5, 327-pound Fanaika signed a three-year contract at the start of free agency and reunites with Reid, who used a seventh-round draft pick on Fanaika in the 2009 draft while with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Big, strong,” Reid said of Fanaika. “I know him because I brought him to Philadelphia. You’re dealing with a big, strong tough guy that plays physical football.”

The right tackle position carries the heaviest intrigue when considering it was left vacant after last season’s starter Ryan Harris remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent.

“Well, right now you have Donald Stephenson over there,” Reid told reporters. “He’s a pretty good player, too. We have a few guys we can work in.”

Stephenson, who enters his fourth year, was projected to be the starter in 2014 before being suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances.

He never cracked the starting lineup after returning to the roster after Week 4 and watched Harris remain the starter.

“He was suspended early and he gave another guy an opportunity,” Reid said of Stephenson. “You see that over and over in this league. And once you give another guy an opportunity to be successful, you don’t want to mess with that, especially on that position on the offensive line.”

Of course, the biggest name without a home is fourth-year guard/tackle Jeff Allen, who moved from left guard to right tackle when Stephenson was suspended. Allen then landed on injured reserve after suffering an elbow/biceps injury in the season opener.

Reid indicated Allen would be in the mix at right guard, but should provide the main competition at right tackle.

“Jeff Allen is going to get in there, too,” Reid said. “I mentioned Stephenson; Jeff Allen can also play that tackle spot. Tackle might be his best position. By the way, Jeff is coming off that injury, so we’ve just got to see a little bit.”

The last position to address is center, which was vacated after Rodney Hudson signed a free-agent contract with the Oakland Raiders.

Third-year pro Eric Kush is currently the only center on the roster, but the Chiefs could still draft one or sign a free agent.

But for now, it appears Kansas City is prepared to give the first shot to Kush, whom the Chiefs selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

“You don’t draft for backup players,” Reid said. “You draft for guys that can be starters, so we drafted Kush and we said, ‘Well, listen. Maybe in a year or two this guy has an opportunity to be a starter if he continues to progress,’ and now he has that opportunity.”

Pending further additions or subtractions, the Chiefs also have offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, tackle Curtis Feigt, guard Ricky Henry, guard Jarrod Pughsley and tackle Derek Sherrod on the roster.

NOTES: Reid told reporters he was recently in touch with strong safety Eric Berry, who is currently battling lymphoma … “He’s doing well,” Reid said of Berry. “Positive and upbeat.” … Reid said he believed third-year tight end Travis Kelce could be an elite player in the league …. “He’s tremendously talented,” Reid said of Kelce. “Loves to play the game. He’s like a little kid out there; he just loves to play.”