Kansas City Chiefs’ Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson are stronger, more confident thanks to offensive-line guru
06/21/2014 4:09 PM
06/21/2014 9:30 PM
Late last season, Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz sat at his locker and searched for his phone.
In the midst of a career year, Schwartz had been talking at length about LeCharles Bentley, the man who had helped him get there, and he couldn’t wait to find a clip of what his offensive-line guru used to do to 300-pound men in the NFL.
“He used to maul people,” Schwartz said.
Finally, Schwartz found the video he’d been searching for and chuckled as fellow guard Jeff Allen, who sat a few stalls over, looked on with an amused look. Turns out it was far from the first time he’d heard about Bentley.
“I mean Geoff, he talked about that guy every day in the locker room,” Allen said with a chuckle. “I got tired of hearing it. I was like ‘Man, why is this guy so special?’ ”
Allen, who started 15 games in 2013 but struggled at times, would soon find out. Shortly after the Chiefs’ 2013 season ended, he dialed up Bentley and told him he wanted to do whatever Schwartz — who cashed in on his big season by signing a four-year, $16.8 million free-agent deal with the Giants — did to get better.
“Individually, I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” said Allen, who finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-12 last season. “So I decided to do something about it.”
Not long after that, offensive tackle Donald Stephenson — who also sat a few stalls over from Schwartz in the locker room — dialed up Bentley, too. After spending 2013 as a swing tackle, Stephenson had already been told he’d be a full-time starter in 2014, and like Allen, he was determined to be ready.
“He has a proven record,” Stephenson said of Bentley after a recently practice. “The guys that went there have made a wonderful transformation, guys like Geoff Schwartz. I’m already feeling the benefits.”
But to do so, he and Allen both had to put their faith in Bentley, a 34-year-old former NFL star, whose own career eventually came to a screeching halt after only six seasons because of a torn patellar tendon that was made worse by a staph infection.
Despite the premature end to a promising career — he’d made the Pro Bowl twice before his retirement — Bentley didn’t stay down for long. As he tried to work his way back from the injury, he became obsessed with health and football conditioning, and he eventually became a certified sports nutritionist.
In 2009, he opened the L. Bentley O-Line Academy, a 6,500-square foot facility in Avon, Ohio, that was dedicated to helping offensive linemen of all ages improve.
Five years later — and with scores of linemen under his tutelage, including Schwartz, San Francisco guard Alex Boone, Tennessee guard Chance Warmack, Detroit guard Larry Warford and Philadelphia tackle Lane Johnson — Bentley tweaked the name slightly (it’s now called L. Bentley O-line Performance). He moved to a 30,000 square-foot facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., which he bills as the country’s first training center designed solely around the needs of offensive linemen.
Football can be a weirdly provincial profession — coaches can be obsessive about who is teaching their guys what — but Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who once pursued Bentley as a free agent in Philadelphia, essentially said he trusts Bentley.
“LeCharles does a good job of that,” Reid said. “He knows what it takes to play in the National Football League, so whatever we can’t do in the offseason, from a coaching standpoint, these guys can go to these different places and, as long as they are in good hands, they can learn something and get better at their profession.”
The fact Allen and Stephenson, who worked out with Bentley in the six weeks before the start of the Chiefs’ offseason training program on April 21, spent their own money to attend the center — that includes the cost of the camp, accommodations, food and travel — also made an impression.
“That says a lot about that person,” Reid said. “(That player has) invested in himself, that’s what he’s doing.”
Bentley said about 50 professional offensive linemen attended his center this spring, and he works hard to make sure they get their money’s worth. Each player participates in on-field workouts, strength training and meetings for the duration of their stay. Upon arrival, each receives an evaluation from Bentley, who is one of three people on staff who personally watch game film of each player.
“He watches the film, he takes you through a functional moving test, sees what your weaknesses are, sees if you’ve got any joints that are weak, any knees, ankles, whatever,” Allen said. “You see chiropractors, you see a ton of specialists.”
While Stephenson and Allen were both high-round picks in 2012, they received different evaluations. In Allen, Bentley saw a gifted player who needed to get stronger.
“From my perspective, there was so much potential level on the tape that hasn’t been tapped,” Bentley said. “One of the biggest things for him was body composition, getting him in a position where you’re going to put on more muscle mass and lose body fat, which was naturally going to enhance what the Lord already gave him.”
Allen, who is listed at 6 feet 4 and 307 pounds, said he now weighs around 315 pounds. He credited Bentley for nailing his nutrition down and Chiefs strength coach Barry Rubin for building a foundation for his strength gains.
“If I wasn’t with Barry before I went down to Arizona, I probably wouldn’t have made it through his workouts,” Allen said. “I’m not going to say any names, but (Bentley) has some some challenging workouts and a lot of guys don’t make it through them.”
Like Allen, Stephenson — who had a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-8.2 in 16 games last season — said he also got stronger after working with Bentley, who can apparently get creative in his workouts.
“We pushed his car up a hill — I guess that was something different,” Stephenson said with a laugh. “We ran out of the weight room, he put his car in neutral and we had to push his big Excursion up a hill. Just me and Jeff, we were going one at a time. That’s some intense stuff.”
But while Stephenson also made strength gains, Bentley also harped on the mental side of the game to the 6-foot-6, 312 pounder he affectionately calls “The Big Natural.”
“When you have a guy that’s so gifted in terms of God-given ability, then you can also lose focus and lose the ability to really learn how to be a true master of your craft,” Bentley said. “The biggest thing with turning him into the best player he can be, just attention to detail and constantly focusing on the little things.”
By the time their stay in Scottsdale ended, Bentley said he saw great growth in Allen and Stephenson, both of whom expressed the same optimism, that their hard work would carry over to the season. Just to make sure, however, Bentley’s program is year-round. He regularly watches tape and evaluates his clients in the regular season, and he makes sure he stays in touch with them.
Allen and Stephenson will be no different, he said.
“I try to be that second or third set of eyes for players in evaluating players and their upcoming opponents,” Bentley said. “Every week I’ll be in contact, for sure.”
It appears both players will welcome the help as they strive to help fans forget the loss of three starters on the offensive line to free-agency.
“We know what kind of players we can be, but you know, you get tired of people hearing people say you have potential,” Allen said. “Potential means nothing to me, same as Donald. Potential will get you fired. We’re just working on not having potential anymore and turning it into production.”