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Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Offensive Line

Posted Aug 2, 2014

In this series we’ll take an in-depth look at each positional group of the Kansas City Chiefs; today it’s the offensive line

The success of an offense is largely determined by what happens in the trenches. Quarterbacks and skill position players often get the headlines, but what the big guys are doing up front is critical for what happens down the field.

Boasting the NFL’s youngest offensive line last season, the Kansas City Chiefs head into 2014 with a potentially even younger offensive line.

Youth aside, Chiefs coach Andy Reid is happy with the competition he has seen from the group as a whole.

“I like what I’ve seen,” Reid said. “I’ve seen good competition—guys battling. It looks like they know their assignments—which is a good thing. They’re playing physical football. So, you want to come out with eight, nine [or] ten of those guys that you have full trust in. So that’s what we’re doing right now.”

When asked about what he wants to see in the preseason, Reid echoes the same sentiment he’s been saying all along.

“Execution. I mean execution is the key,” Reid said. “Execution includes assignments and includes battling, toughness—it includes all those things.”

One player who fits that toughness mantra is third-year player Rodney Hudson, who led the Chiefs in offensive snaps last season with 1,034.

With a good amount of turnover in personnel along the offensive line this past offseason, Hudson’s presence is a known commodity for Reid, which he sees as a good thing.

“Solid player,” Reid said. “He’s there every day. He knows his assignment every play. He’s a good leader. Not loud, but just a good leader. He’s able to transmit from left to right and right to left when needed to change the protections and blocking schemes. Good football player.”

Reid further explains what Hudson brings to the offensive line from a leadership standpoint.

“Rodney just gives you complete confidence that everything is taken care of in there,” Reid said. “Not only is he telling guys when they need to pick up the pace, but he’s also coaching them up about any transition that takes place with the defense and when to abort what you’ve got on and relocate the strength of the defense.

“He can handle all of that stuff and he’s doing it in seconds.”

One thing that has helped Hudson improve over the last couple of years is going up against one of the best young defensive lineman in the NFL every day in Dontari Poe.

As a center, Hudson is tasked with going up against the Pro Bowl defensive tackle often.

“It’s great work,” Hudson said. “We have a really good defensive line and Poe gives us great work all the time. We know the player he is and it’s good to go against those guys at practice to get good work.”

One of the best drills at training camp for fans to watch is the 1-on-1 drills between the offensive and defensive line. It’s a pass-protection drill where the players get after each other like few other drills you’ll see anywhere else.

It has been during this drill throughout training camp that Hudson has showed development since last season, impressing his teammates in the process. The Voice of the Chiefs, Mitch Holthus, spoke with defensive lineman Dontari Poe after practice about Hudson.

“He’s improved a lot,” Poe said. “Rodney has always been good since I got here but he works hard. Every day he comes out and I know when I‘m going against him I got to get my mind right, so I love competing against him every day.”

Coming into just his fourth year, Hudson doesn’t have the experience you’d normally see from the most tenured starting player at their position on any given NFL team.

But that’s the situation he finds himself in and even with that, Hudson doesn’t change his approach to practice or helping out his teammates.

“I approach it the same way,” Hudson said. “Trying to get better every day, trying to get them to communicate a little bit better. Sometimes you have older guys playing into you and you need to get on the same page but that comes with experience.

“I’m just trying to do my best at helping those guys anyway I can and continuing to learn myself.”

When asked specifically about how he can help his teammates, Hudson told Holthus he leans on his experience to bring along younger players.

“Knowledge, what I’ve seen so far,” Hudson said. “Maybe I might have seen someone play and then may have not. So just continue to help them out, continue to help them pick up on cues or whatnot and continue to grow.”

Another player who has impressed thus far in training camp is one of the other three “veteran” players along the offensive line, third-year player Jeff Allen.

Taking reps at every spot except for center, Allen has proven his versatility to his coaches and teammates.

Reid said after practice that Allen could even move to left tackle if needed.

“We could probably put 71 (Jeff Allen) out there,” Reid said of the left tackle spot. “He could probably do a pretty good job too. He’s been working, you saw him working reps out there today.”

It wasn’t just Reid that was impressed either; outside linebacker Tamba Hali was impressed with what Allen was showing at practice.

“I’m very impressed with [Allen],” Hali said. “He’s able to play guard and he’s able to play tackle and I’m going against him and he’s stoned me a couple times. I’m very impressed with him.”

The Chiefs did pick up a couple of offensive linemen in free agency this offseason, seven-year NFL veteran Ryan Harris and fourth-year player J’Marcus Webb.

Reid spoke of Harris after practice last Monday.

“He’s a good solid player it looks like.” Reid said. “We’ll see how he does with time. He’s had a couple injuries in his career so we’ll see how he does as he works through this thing.”

Harris has seen time at both right and left tackle during camp, while Webb has spent most of his time on the right side. Both have been predominantly working with the second team.

The third member of the Chiefs offensive line who is considered a “veteran” because of experience and need is Donald Stephenson, who has just over 1,000 snaps in two years.

Stephenson has played both right and left tackle, as well as right guard since being the Chiefs third-round draft pick back in 2012.

He knows there’s plenty of room for development for himself personally, but there are still things he can pass along to younger players to help with their development.

“It’s me, Rodney (Hudson), and Jeff (Allen) as kind of the older guys now, so we have to bring guys along,” Stephenson said. “BA (Branden Albert) and Rodney (Hudson) did a good job of letting Jeff (Allen) and I know we would have to step into that role.”

Stephenson agrees with Hudson that going up against a talented defensive line group every day helps their development in improving their craft.

“You’re not going to get a play off, I can tell you that much,” Stephenson said. That’s a tough group. But, I can tell you that it makes it easier on Sunday because those guys are the best.”

Asked to move back and forth between left and right tackle throughout his career, Stephenson says it’s not easy to do but preparation and reps are the key to doing it well.

“You have to study plays on both sides,” Stephenson said. “You got to work on this kick-step, that kick-step—running from different angles. It could be stressful but you make it easy on yourself by preparing through the week.”

While Stephenson has been working predominantly at right tackle with the first team so far in training camp, last year’s No. 1 pick Eric Fisher has moved back to his natural position of left tackle.

When asked if there’s any pressure on moving back to the blind side, Fisher was quick to let everyone know where his focus is right now.

“It’s not about pressure; it’s about doing your job and blocking everything else out,” Fisher said. “I’m glad to be back in my home position, but I’m ready to get back to work.”

While it’s easier said than done to block everything out, second-year center Eric Kush says having good leadership helped him as a rookie last season.

“We have a great chemistry here,” Kush said. “As a rookie last year, I came in and my head was spinning. Stuff was happening so fast. They help you through it. They’re surprisingly really helpful with younger guys, helping with the offense and everything. We’re just here to work and keep playing football together.”

One of those younger guys who has been making a name for himself recently is sixth-round pick Zach Fulton, the rookie from Tennessee.

Splitting first-team reps at right guard with second-year player Rishaw Johnson, Fulton is the kind of guy who likes having something to prove to everyone.

Reid spoke about Fulton after practice on Thursday.

“Zach’s a tough kid,” Reid said. “Again, he’s young. He’s learning. But he sure is ahead of what you think a rookie would be.”

Another new face who has recently seen first-team reps is third-year player Ricky Henry, the former Nebraska Cornhusker has been working at guard at training camp.

Other players competing in the mix are Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Otis Hudson, Ryan McKee, Ben Gottschalk and Jeff Linkenbach.

It’s a youthful group that should only improve throughout the course of training camp, the preseason and into the regular season.

The leadership of Hudson, Allen and Stephenson will go a long way in helping this group come together and set the tone for the Chiefs offense.

The Chiefs first preseason game is Thursday, August 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

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