Prior to the Chiefs’ preseason loss to the Vikings on Saturday, the last time Jeff Allen had played offensive tackle in an NFL game was Dec. 30, 2012.
That was the Chiefs’ regular-season finale against Denver, at the very end of a miserable 2-14 season. But Allen played all his snaps as coach Andy Reid’s starting left guard during the Chiefs’ resurgence last year, and was looking forward to improving on his 2013 performance at the same position this season.
But when the Chiefs learned last week that starting right tackle Donald Stephenson would be suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, it changed the game. Protecting the quarterback will be a primary concern while the Chiefs navigate a brutal schedule, and having their best offensive tackle out for a month won’t help, so on Saturday, they gave the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Allen an extended look at right tackle in Stephenson’s place, as he spent the majority of the first three quarters there.
“It’s not like it’s a position that’s foreign to me,” said Allen, who spent most of last week practicing at right tackle. “I got into a little groove in the game, and I started to feel it again.”
Allen started 47 games over his four-year career at Illinois, all of them at tackle.
But his move to his old position on Saturday wasn’t smooth, as a defensive player slipped through the gap between Allen and right guard Zach Fulton and proceeded to sack quarterback Alex Smith.
It’s always difficult to assign blame without knowing the assignments on the play, but it’s safe to say there was a breakdown somewhere, and for that, Allen said they need to do better.
“That’s just miscommunication, knowing what we have to do, making the right call, just being on the same page,” Allen said.
The right side of the line gave up another sack when the Vikings appeared to run a stunt and Fulton was a bit late to recover in the “A” gap.
“Some things are communication, some things you just have to have better,” said Fulton, who also mentioned the need to improve awareness.
But to be fair, the first-string offensive line struggled — as a whole — for the second week in a row. Stephenson did not play, quarterback Alex Smith was sacked three times and was often running for his life.
“There are issues,” Reid said. “Obviously it wasn’t good enough, and the quarterback was hit too many times.”
Allen agreed, and noted that while it takes time for an offensive line to build continuity, with the regular season rapidly approaching, time is running out.
“We’ve got to figure it out fast,” Allen said.
Allen wasn’t the only one the staff was taking a look at Saturday, either. While Stephenson sat, backups Jeff Linkenbach and Ricky Henry regularly rotated in with the first team at Allen’s old position, left guard, for the first three quarters.
“Donald Stephenson didn’t play because I needed to get the guys who are going to play ready to go,” Reid said. ”New right tackle, left guard ... they needed the work. I left them in there a little longer so they could get a little of that.”
Henry, 27, went undrafted in 2011 and spent all of last year on injured reserve, but the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder started moving his way up the depth chart in training camp and quickly earned praise from Reid for his aggressive and tough play.
Linkenbach, 26, was signed as a free agent in the offseason after spending the previous four years with the Colts. The Chiefs touted his versatility when they signed him, and Reid had praised his play of late.
The Chiefs also gave looks at right tackle to Ryan Harris, who played there for a bit in the third quarter, and J’Marcus Webb, who played extensively Saturday after sitting out the majority of the Chiefs’ first two preseason games.
Both are experienced NFL tackles. And remember, the first cut day is on Tuesday, so the Chiefs will definitely be scouring the mark for help.
But if the staff does settle on Allen to replace Stephenson come the season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 7, he said he’d be ready.
“I’m confident in my ability to play tackle,” Allen said. “I’m going to do everything I need to do to be prepared.”