Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was doing his job Sunday as the Chiefs’ starting right guard, just minding his own business, when he’d occasionally hear an amusing sound — “Ohp!” — coming from his left.
Each time, it was center Zach Fulton, a second-year pro who likes to use the noise as a sort of do-it-all sound, much to the delight of his teammates.
“He makes me laugh on the field ... (making) some weird sound coming out of his mouth when he blocks somebody,” Duvernay-Tardif said with a chuckle as he turned to Fulton, who was standing nearby in the Chiefs’ locker room Wednesday.
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“I hear it four or five times a game, at least, and when he pancakes somebody, he’s like ‘ohp, ohp, ohp,’ and he just lands on him. It’s just fun to play next to him. He’s a cool dude.”
The noise, Fulton said, doesn’t necessarily mean anything, in particular. But it has gained some traction in the Chiefs’ offensive line room.
“It’s a random thing — we’re all using it occasionally,” Fulton said. “You’ve got to have fun in there sometimes, remember it’s just a game.”
But don’t think for a moment Fulton, a 2014 sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee, doesn’t take his job seriously. He most certainly does, and the way he’s attacked a move from right guard to center this year — a position he had never played in a regular-season game until the Chiefs’ 34-20 win over the Raiders on Sunday — is proof of that.
“I thought that was a heck of a game by him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said afterward.
Fulton said he received good feedback from his coaches for the performance.
“I think I graded out pretty well,” Fulton said. “I didn’t get any bad looks, so I think I did pretty good.”
One of the more impressive aspects of the performance is that Fulton didn’t have a single bad snap, something he grinned broadly about in the moments after the game.
“I didn’t mess up any snaps,” Fulton said. “As long as I got the snap down, I was good.”
Reid confirmed that Fulton — who got the start in place of 2015 second-rounder Mitch Morse, who was dealing with a concussion — did a nice job at that, as well as using his massive, 6-foot-5, 316-pound frame to generate movement at the point of attack against the Raiders.
“I would tell you that (is true), and that he’s extremely smart,” Reid said, when asked if size and strength suit Fulton at center.
Fulton, who started all 16 games at his natural position of right guard as a rookie a year ago, wouldn’t say whether he likes center more than guard — “I like wherever they put me at,” he said — but he does enjoy overpowering people in tight quarters, which happens a little more naturally at center because of natural defensive alignments.
“I’m able to get my hands on the guys a lot quicker,” Fulton said. “That’s because they’re right in my face most of the time, so that’s definitely an advantage.”
Fulton took a handful of random snaps at center during practice even last season, and in the name of versatility, he took a few more snaps there toward the end of this preseason. He fared well enough at his new position in a preseason win over the Rams — where he played exclusively at center — that the Chiefs felt comfortable releasing 2013 sixth-round pick Eric Kush, who had backed up starter Rodney Hudson for the previous two years.
Since then, Fulton — who also started three games at right guard this year — has been snapping every day as the primary backup at center behind Morse.
“It was kind of hard at first, but the repetition of doing it, eventually you get it right,” said Fulton, who credited assistant o-line coach Eugene Chung for helping him learn the art of snapping.
Fulton also took some snapping tips from Morse — who practiced Wednesday and might return this week — and grips the ball the same way Morse does before the snap, when he’s busy identifying fronts and making line calls.
“It’s definitely fun, getting to direct everybody around,” Fulton said.
He also credited quarterback Alex Smith for helping him in this area. Before his first start last weekend, Fulton went through certain plays and fronts with Smith and the rest of the quarterbacks so they could be on the same page come gameday.
“Whenever I do something wrong, he’ll correct me,” Fulton said of Smith. “Being at center, overall, has helped me understand the offense as a whole.”
When he was drafted last year, Fulton didn’t expect to be playing center one day. But he’s grateful for the opportunity, because he knows that kind of versatility will help him play in the NFL for a long time.
“If you want to stay around for a while, you’ve got to be able to play different positions and be able to go in wherever they need you,” Fulton said.
His teammates, particularly Duvernay-Tardif, will be happy to have him around, too, as he continues to dish out “ohps!” at his own discretion.
“He’s the kind of guy that goes out there and does his job, but at the same time ... makes me laugh on the field,” Duvernay-Tardif said.