Offensive tackle Branden Albert will know training camp is truly today , when the Chiefs are scheduled to practice in full pads for the first time. He will inevitably be asked to pass-block against Tamba Hali or Justin Houston and at that moment, it all becomes real.
“The first pass rush from Tamba, that’s when I know I’m ready to rock and roll, when (Hali) or Justin Houston comes at me,’’ Albert said. “That first pass rush, if I get him or he beats me, then I’m OK. It’s time to play.’’
Time was when nobody knew whether Albert would reach even this early stage of the season with the Chiefs. After the Chiefs kept him from becoming an unrestricted free agent by designating Albert as their franchise player, he stayed away from the early portion of off-season practice in protest.
He was also the subject of trade talks between the Chiefs and Dolphins. The Chiefs even acquired another tackle, Eric Fisher, with the first pick in this year’s draft and for a time it looked as if Albert had a better chance of playing his next game for Miami rather than Kansas City.
The trade never developed, and Albert eventually reported for offseason work with the Chiefs. As unhappy as Albert once was over being denied the opportunity to pursue a lucrative, long-term contract as a free agent, he has by all appearances left those feelings behind.
“He’s been great,’’ offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “I’ve been pleased with his effort. He came in (Friday) and started with that run test and he knocked that thing out. His attitude is very good, very pleasing.
“He understands what we’re teaching offensively. He buys into the system. He gels well with our guys.’’
Albert didn’t get the long-term contract he wanted, but he did receive a consolation prize, the one-year, $9.83 million deal the Chiefs were obligated to offer him as the franchise player. Even that, Albert said, wasn’t what brought him around.
“You realize what’s important,’’ he said. “You’ve got to let (agents) handle that. You just worry about football stuff and being with your teammates. The new offense, I was worried about getting things down. If I don’t play well and I don’t help my team out, that’s on my conscience. That’s on me, and I don’t want that.
“That’s why I was anxious to come back. I’m glad I came back. I was a little rusty at first. I didn’t really know the offense, the little details. Now, I’m learning things, little things, and I can move on from that.’’
Albert, a guard in college, was drafted by the Chiefs in the first round in 2008. He was immediately asked to learn a new position and the most important on the line, left tackle.
He went through some growing pains before eventually developing into a reliable left tackle. So he wanted assurances from the Chiefs he would remain at that position.
The Chiefs gave him those assurances. Fisher will play right tackle at least to start his NFL career.
“I’m obviously going to learn from him and do everything I can to become a better player,’’ Fisher said. “I think we’re going to have a very strong line with both of us on it, and I think it’s going to be a very productive season in the run and pass game.”
Fisher isn’t the only offensive lineman turning to Albert for wisdom. Albert, 28, is the senior citizen on the line, making his role more than just to protect the blind side of quarterback Alex Smith.
“I used to go to Brian (Waters) and all the other older guys,’’ Albert said. “Now I feel like guys are looking at me like I’m the old, grumpy guy. I understand that aspect of being the older guy. You’ve got a lot of responsibility because everybody is looking at you and you’ve got to represent as a player that this is how it’s supposed to be done.’’
The Chiefs, with a new staff that includes head coach Andy Reid and Pederson, will probably attempt more passes than they did last season, when they were among the league leaders in rushing yardage. That puts a premium on pass protection, an area where Albert has improved throughout his career.
Albert, like most offensive lineman, prefers to run block. But the Chiefs obviously felt comfortable with him on Smith’s blind side.
“If I’m going against (Dallas’) DeMarcus Ware or Tamba or Justin, I don’t want to pass block as much,’’ Albert said. “But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’’