KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs starting right tackle Eric Fisher suffered a groin injury during Tuesday’s practice, leading to him not practicing Wednesday.
For most teams, Fisher potentially being out of the lineup ahead of the first round of the playoffs could be a devastating blow.
But the Chiefs are covered if Fisher is unavailable Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, thanks to having a proven versatile player in second-year offensive lineman Donald Stephenson.
And offensive coordinator Doug Pederson appreciates having an interchangeable part like Stephenson.
“The offensive line, they’ve battled through those injuries all year long,” Pederson said during Wednesday’s media session. “You have to have those guys.
“You have to have those swing tackles, swing guards that can play center. This time of year, you go with it and everybody is ready to go.”
Being prepared at any given moment is a trait Stephenson takes pride in.
He’s been thrust in the starting lineup seven times during the regular season (three at right tackle, four at left tackle) due to injuries to Fisher, who missed time with a concussion and a shoulder injury, and left tackle Branden Albert, who recently battled a knee injury.
Stephenson, who started the final four games of the regular season in Albert’s place, said the repetitions he received in organized team activities (OTAs) groomed his versatile role heading into the regular season.
“Coach (Andy) Reid and (offensive line) coach (Andy) Heck got me reps at guard and also during training camp,” Stephenson said. “I haven’t had to play it this year, but it helped me a lot with knowing what the guy next to me is doing.”
Understanding what each offensive line position does also helps, and Stephenson ensures he’s up to speed every week in the event he gets the call.
“I’ve gotten better at knowing not the whole offense, but as far as up front and what everybody needs to do,” Stephenson said. “So when I’m thrown in there at any position, I can know all that.”
While Stephenson has made it appear seamless wherever he plays, going back and forth on the offensive line isn’t as easy as the former Oklahoma Sooner has made it look.
Albert points out there are different mechanics and techniques involved for either side of the offensive line and he’s impressed in how Stephenson continues to answer the call.
“It’s very hard to do and you got to be a special person to do it,” Albert said of the ability to play different positions. “I think Donald has done a good job in showing his versatility and understanding.”
Offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who also has versatility to play guard or tackle, agreed with Albert.
“That’s tough to do,” Schwartz said. “But Donald’s has done a great job of doing that and it helps getting a full week of practice.”
Schwartz adds it’s important for primary backups to understand what the coaching staff expects and to be ready at all times.
“Definitely for backup guys, you mentally have to be sharp because you never know when you’re going to get in,” Schwartz said. “When you get in, there’s no excuse for doing the wrong thing, you’re expected to do the right thing.”
Performing when given the opportunity hasn’t been an issue for Stephenson, who has allowed 1.5 sacks in his 16 appearances and seven starts during the regular season.
Stephenson said the key to staying ready is entering every game week in practices and team meetings like he’s starting.
That approach – along with improving his overall play – started months ago.
“That was my goal this offseason, just be one of the five best blockers,” Stephenson said. “I worked on that and I treated myself as I was a starter, and it’s paid off for me.”