ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The sight of a collapsing pocket or Chiefs linemen getting beat at the point of attack was a weekly occurrence in 2014
To say the Chiefs offensive line had issues would be an understatement, as quarterbacks Alex Smith (45) and Chase Daniel (4) combined for 49 times sacked.
Kansas City’s running game also experienced a setback despite Jamaal Charles totaling 1,324 yards from scrimmage, which represented a decrease of 656 yards from the 1,980 yards the two-time All-Pro produced in 2013.
The Chiefs made it a priority to upgrade the offensive line during the offseason, trading for two-time Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs, using a second-round pick on rookie center/guard Mitch Morse and signing guard Paul Fanaika to a three-year deal.
Charles made it no secret he is pleased with the overhaul.
“It was rough last year,” Charles said Wednesday. “Seeing it now, seeing the more experience we got now, I’m like, man, it’s going to be better with having a great talent at left guard.”
The Chiefs took a Band-Aid approach following the 2013 season after losing left tackle Branden Albert, and guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah to free agency.
The patchwork resulted in the signing of guards Jeff Linkenbach and Mike McGlynn, who joined the team the final week of preseason; and tackle Ryan Harris, who signed before the start of training camp.
Additional turmoil ensued when guard/tackle Jeff Allen suffered a season-ending biceps/elbow injury in the first regular season game, and Donald Stephenson, who projected as the starting right tackle, was suspended the first four games of 2014.
“It was tough last year in the sense that, just the moving parts,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “We had a bunch of guys that came in late. We were trying to fit it together even through camp, as camp ended, you’re picking up guys that were stepping in and playing.”
Gone are McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach, both of whom combined at left guard for 9 ½ sacks, which led the offensive line; Harris and center Rodney Hudson, who signed a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders.
The Chiefs have yet to settle the offensive line with 11 days of full-team practices in the books, but have run Eric Fisher at left tackle, Grubbs at left guard, Morse at center, Zach Fulton at right guard and Allen at right tackle in the past five practices.
Coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that group would start the first preseason game, and Charles is encouraged by what he has seen.
“I’m getting comfortable with the group,” Charles said. “I feel like Grubbs and Fish(er), they’re building chemistry. Then you’ve got Jeff moved (to right tackle), and Zach.”
Charles complimented each player, and said Fulton, who started all 16 games as a rookie in 2014, has a year under his belt.
Charles concedes Morse may not have NFL experience, but pointed out the rookie offensive linemen enjoyed success at Missouri.
“I think he’s ready,” Charles said. “He’s not much experienced, but I think he has experience in the past playing at a high level in the SEC, so I feel comfortable.”
And the Chiefs’ star running back had a special compliment for the man holding down the left guard position.
“Grubbs, he reminds me of Brian Waters,” Charles said. “Brian Waters was a great guard for the Chiefs for a long time and that’s what we need, guys like that.”
The Chiefs started training camp with third-year pro Eric Kush at center, Allen at right guard and Stephenson at right tackle before reshuffling the deck on Aug. 8.
While continuity along the front five is arguably the biggest determining factor for success, Smith is confident with what he sees.
“I feel good about it,” Smith said. “I think those guys are doing a great job, they get great work in practice – we go against such a good front, so they get tested every single day, every play. They’ve been doing a great job.”
The Chiefs have three more days of training camp and four preseason games to finalize starters on the offensive line, and to find important swing players at the tackle and guard position, respectively.
And unlike the 2014 season, there are plenty of options to consider on this year’s roster.
“Inevitably, like every year, it’s more than five,” Smith said. “You need depth, it’s going to be seven, eight guys that are going to have to step in and play over the course of a year. Depth is important with that.”
Charles said he feels excited to know the Chiefs made a commitment to upgrade the personnel group largely responsible for opening holes for him.
“When you have a line, that gets you excited,” Charles said. “That gets you wanting to play, you want to stay on the field. You want to give your all because the guys that have experience, they got the same experience you have. They’re going to go out there and give it all they have to win the game.”
Even more important, the team’s biggest star player pointed out the bottom line.
“I’m happy we went out there and got some experience on the line,” Charles said. “That means that we want to win.”