(KC Chiefs photo.)
The Chiefs will wrap up their first week of OTA sessions on Thursday with their third practice of the week. They are trying to answer a handful of off-season questions about their roster and units during the OTAs. Andy Reid and John Dorsey are focused on every move and play, especially four key areas where they will focus on personnel and how they are utilized. Those questions are:
- How much progress can Alex Smith make with his new cadre of receivers, topped by Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley?
- How far along physically are injured starters inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito? What about safety Tyvon Branch, signed in free agency that missed most of the 2014 season in Oakland? Will they see safety Eric Berry in the next three weeks?
- What combinations will they create along the offensive line, with old and new faces?
- With draft picks Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson out of action because of NFL rules, what kind of depth can the Chiefs develop at cornerback, where they always seem to need talented bodies?
We covered the passing game and the status of injured players earlier this week. Today’s epistle tackles the offensive line.
Andy Reid said he wants the five best blockers on the No. 1 offensive line come the start of the 2015 regular season in Houston. At the end of May it appears two of those five spots are already spoken for – left tackle with Eric Fisher and left guard with Ben Grubbs. But the other three spots appear to be wide-open battles and presently there appears to be seven to eight blockers with a chance to claim one of those starting jobs.
Here’s a position-by-position look at the questions Reid and Dorsey want answers for by the time the Chiefs finish their off-season program:
Left tackle – Fisher holds this spot and the only way he does not start is injury or his performance drops off the football map. His first two NFL seasons have been characterized by many as poor efforts, but they were anything but bad. While he’s not lived up to the level of play expected from a high first-round draft choice, Fisher showed growth over the last half of the 2014 season There’s no obvious backup currently on the left side. Donald Stephenson would likely jump in there if he does not grab the starting job on the right side. Rookies Kelvin Palmer and Garrett Frye have both worked this first week of OTAs at left tackle.
Left guard – Baring injury, Grubbs will be the opening day starter inside on the left side. Based on his performance in New Orleans, he will be the best blocker in the Chiefs line. At 31 years old, he will almost certainly be the oldest starter, at 31 years. The battle for the No. 2 left guard position is wide open with a lot of players in the mix, including Jeff Allen, Paul Fanaika, Laurent Durvernay-Tardif, and rookie Melvin Meggs. Zach Fulton may be a potential LG as well.
Center – Three players will be in the mix to replace Hudson and right now, the job is wide open. The early leader board has Eric Kush, Fulton and Mitch Morse in that order. By experience they are ranked as third-year (Kush), second-season (Fulton) and rookie (Morse.) Coming out of college and into the NFL, Kush was the only one of the three with extensive time at center, opening 21 games at the spot as a junior-senior in 2011-12. Morse spent most of his sophomore season at Mizzou at center. Fulton did not snap until last season’s pre-season. Size-wise, Morse is the tallest at 6-6, followed by Fulton (6-5) and Kush (6-4.) Fulton is the heaviest at a listed 316 pounds, ahead of Kush (313) and Morse (305.) On the edge of the competition are Allen and rookie Daniel Munyer.
Right guard — Allen started training camp last year at left guard, but moved to right tackle when Donald Stephenson missed the first four games on an NFL suspension involving performance enhancing drugs. He lasted one game, as he suffered a ruptured biceps muscle in the opener and underwent surgery and the rest of the season on the injured-reserve list. This week he’s opened at right guard and has also taken snaps at right tackle. Unrestricted free agent signee Paul Fanaika will be a factor for the starting job. Plus, Morse may end up getting a shot and possible Fulton could return to his rookie-year spot.
Right tackle – Donald Stephenson has pulled himself up from the basement of the Chiefs roster and gotten himself back in the good graces of the coaching staff. He was with the No. 1 unit this week. But he was in the same spot at this time last year before his suspension came down. Whether he can hold his position is a major question he must answer. Chasing after the starting job are former Green Bay first-round choice Derek Sherrod and fellow 2012 NFL Draft choice Allen. Sherrod has just one start in four NFL seasons since he was No. 32 in the 2011 NFL Draft.