It was two years in the making, but former Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert believes he’s in the right place at the right time with the Miami Dolphins.
Before the 2013 draft, the Chiefs nearly traded Albert to Miami but instead put the franchise tag on him for another season.
But the Chiefs also selected Eric Fisher with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, and though they played Fisher at right tackle, Albert knew his days in Kansas City were numbered. Sure enough, the Chiefs let Albert walk last spring, and on the second day of free agency, he signed a five-year contract worth up to $46 million with $25 million guaranteed.
“When we lost the Colts playoff game, I pretty much figured my fate was sealed,” said Albert, who will face his former teammates on Sunday in Miami. “When they drafted Eric Fisher, you’re not going to play a No. 1 overall pick at right tackle. I did some things to help my career and help my value a little more than people thought it was going to be.
“Some people think I was getting older, some people didn’t think I was as good as (other) people think I am, and it was my job to prove everybody wrong, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. The Miami Dolphins showed me the most interest, and I had to go where I was wanted and loved, and that’s where I went.”
So far, Albert has rewarded the Dolphins’ belief in him.
Adapting to the Dolphins’ zone-read offense, Albert is the NFL’s top-ranked offensive tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, with an overall grade of 7.1 through two weeks. That’s up from a 5.9 last year when Albert was ranked No. 28 and selected to his first Pro Bowl.
Albert has committed no penalties, allowed no sacks, and permitted one quarterback hit and one hurry in an upset of New England and road loss to Buffalo.
Fisher, in his first year as a left tackle, ranks No. 63 of 66 tackles, with a negative-6.4 grade that includes seven quarterback hits, three hurries but no sacks.
“Everything works out for everybody,” said Albert, a starter from the day he was a first-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 2008. “I have no gripes against the organization. I had six good years there. I went there as a young boy and came out a grown man. I have a love for Kansas City … Kansas and Missouri, both sides. I have great memories of Kansas City.”
Albert, 29, is part of a totally rebuilt Miami offensive line that was dismantled in the wake of last year’s bullying scandal. The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick, Ja’Wuan James of Tennessee, is starting at right tackle and is rated the No. 6 tackle by Pro Football Focus with a 4.1 grade.
“Obviously, we were looking to improve our production at the left tackle position,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “Brandon was a guy we studied for a while. We liked what we saw on the film, and everything we saw on the film came to fruition here so far. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but we like the way he’s playing.
“I really like the way he’s fit into the chemistry of the football team. He’s a real high-character individual. Secondly, he’s never missed a day since the offseason program started and the OTAs and training camp and all of that. He has meshed with the guys very well.”
Still, it’s strange for Albert to be studying game film of opponents with arrowheads on their red helmets.
“Every time I watch film, I’m thinking I’m watching myself,” Albert said, “but I’m watching the defense and watching players I practiced with, I went to war with, and now I’m playing against these guys.
“It’s kind of weird. I’m not going to lie, seeing Tamba (Hali) and Justin (Houston) and Allen Bailey and Eric Berry, all these guys I was in the locker room with and shared frustrations …”
Though no longer teammates anymore, Albert was distressed to hear about the season-ending injuries to Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, defensive end Mike DeVito and especially Jeff Allen, who lined up next to him the last two seasons at left guard before moving to right tackle at the start of this season.
“He was one of my young pupils, like Brian Waters was to me,” Albert said of Allen. “No matter what, I wanted to see him and Hud (center Rodney Hudson) and Fish and Donald (Stephenson) all do well, because they looked up to me.
“I was the Brian Waters in the room to them like Brian Waters was to me. I watched film on those guys and made sure they weren’t taking the wrong steps. I wanted them to do well, and when I saw (Allen) get hurt for the season, I felt bad because I felt this was his turn-around year to make his name and step out of my shadow.”
Of all his ex-teammates, Albert has devoted most attention this week to Hali, who will line up against him on Sunday in Miami. Hali ranks third on the Chiefs’ all-time list, with 74.5 sacks, including one of Peyton Manning in last week’s loss at Denver.
“It’s something I’m going to look forward to,” Albert said. “I saw Tamba’s work ethic through the years ever since I was a rookie … to see what kind of player he was, and he helped me become the player I am by going against him in practice.
“Now, it’s live action. Me and Tamba had some classic battles in practice. This one counts.”