The Chiefs set about improving the offensive line this offseason and added multiple players. But when the Chiefs’ first-string offensive line took the field Tuesday for offseason workouts, it was three incumbents — Eric Kush at center, Jeff Allen at right guard and Donald Stephenson at right tackle — who opened with the presumed starters at left tackle, Eric Fisher, and left guard, Ben Grubbs.
“We’re kind of playing everybody in all different spots,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We don’t even care. Tomorrow will probably be different. We’re going to find the five best guys. That’s what we’re trying to get to. It’s open competition. I really don’t care where they play — I just want the five best guys.”
Tuesday, it appears, was the start of a very intriguing competition for a unit that needs to play better for the Chiefs to improve from 9-7 and reach the playoffs. The Chiefs allowed 49 sacks last season, the seventh-most in the league.
In addition to swapping a fifth-round pick this offseason for Grubbs, a former Pro Bowler, the Chiefs also signed Paul Fanaika to a three-year, $8.1 million contract, presumably to play right guard, where Allen and last year’s starter, Zach Fulton, also return.
Meanwhile, Stephenson was the projected starter at right tackle last year when he was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Chiefs, however, opted not to retain his replacement at right tackle, Ryan Harris, and did not draft a pure tackle in the draft.
On the surface, Allen — who got some work at right tackle Tuesday — and free-agent signee and former first-round pick Derek Sherrod, who has struggled with injuries during his career, offer the best chance to compete with Stephenson for playing time.
The Chiefs also drafted Missouri offensive lineman Mitch Morse in the second round, and general manager John Dorsey said he anticipates Morse competing with Kush for the vacant starting center position once filled by Rodney Hudson.
Reid was asked what went into the decision to start organized team activities with Kush, Allen and Stephenson with the first group, at least initially.
“We’ve got guys that have got some experience,” Reid said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not comfortable with the rookie (Morse), we’ve comfortable with him, too. He’s picked it up pretty fast.”
Morse earned some work at right guard during team drills Tuesday, and only played center during seven-on-seven.
“I wouldn’t read into that too much,” Reid said. “We rotate all those guys through. It’s probably two-fold — you can’t get enough reps. I told him during that period that, when you come over there during that period, even though it’s seven-on-seven, you’re taking all your movements fast and according to the protection that’s given to you. So it’s not a rest period, and you get good work in. But they’ll be doing it.”
Last year’s starter at right guard, Zach Fulton, also got some snaps at center during team drills.
“The end result is let’s get reps,” Reid said. “You saw it right in the middle when Alex was still out there and he had another center come in — Zach came in with the ones. So don’t really care, let’s just find the best guys and we’ll go with it.”
Reid said Fulton has some experience at center during practice, but not during games.
“He did a little bit during training camp last year, so we got an idea what he can do there,” Reid said. “We rotate a few guys in at that center spot because it’s an important position — if he’s not the starter and somebody else is, however that works, you want to make sure you’ve got more than one.”
The starting line might end up looking completely different come the regular season — Rishaw Johnson opened up OTAs as the starting right guard last year, and he didn’t make it through training camp. But running back Jamaal Charles seems to like the initial group.
“I just feel comfortable,” Charles said. “I feel I’ve got a Pro Bowl guard (Grubbs) in front of me, and I’ve Jeff back, and we went to the playoffs with him (in 2013). We’ve got Fish, who has developed in his third year. We’ve got Donald, and he played a whole season and did a great job (in 2013) when Branden (Albert) and Fish were at those positions.
“So now, I feel way comfortable. These guys are getting focused and it’s time to get (started) now.”