After an uneven overall performance during the preseason, it’s safe to say the Chiefs’ offensive line will be in the spotlight during their season opener Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Of the five players expected to start, only one — center Rodney Hudson — is an incumbent starter from last season’s 11-5 team.
Second-year left tackle and former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher has struggled during his transition from the right side. Veteran left guard Mike McGlynn has been here less than two weeks, while rookie right guard Zach Fulton, a sixth-round pick, has looked, well, like a rookie at times.
And third-year pro Jeff Allen will be making his first career NFL start at right tackle as he fills in for suspended starter Donald Stephenson. Allen knows he’ll be under the gun, too.
“It comes with our position,” he said.
But while Allen, who started 15 games at left guard last season, is being thrown into the fire, it’s not a stretch to say he feels more comfortable at his “new” position.
Allen, a 6-foot-4, 306-pounder, started 47 games during his four-year college career at Illinois, all of them at left or right tackle. He was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
“People will tell you when he came out that was his natural position,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Then we put him in at guard … but he’s a good guard and he’s doing well at tackle. I think he’s looking forward to testing it out here in the regular season.”
Reid’s got that right. And Allen, who didn’t surrender a sack or a quarterback hit against the Vikings two weeks ago, doesn’t lack self-assurance at his new position.
“It’s a level of comfort,” Allen said. “Anytime you do something so long and have success at it, you just have that confidence about it.”
For all his comfort in pass protection, however, Allen knows he still needs to improve his run blocking at right tackle.
“The angles change,” Allen said. “I mean, I did well, protection-wise. But in the run game, I wasn’t taking the right angles. And that’s just because I wasn’t used to it. It’s different.
“I’m not working with a center. I’m not starting off the double team, I’m coming in at a different angle. It’s a little different, a lot more space. Especially when you’re in the open end.”
Allen said he enjoys playing in space though, which is something he rarely gets to do as a guard.
“It’s no space inside,” Allen said. “It’s a phone booth. It’s a lot less time, you have to use your hands right away. So it’s faster and things happen quicker.
“When you’re on the edge, you’re dealing with a lot more speed guys and a lot better athletes, but you have a little bit more time to be patient.”
Allen said he and Fulton have also spent the last two weeks getting on the same page, a necessity after a handful of communication breakdowns led to quarterback hurries against the Vikings.
“Just communicating more in practice,” Fulton said. “We talk a lot and that carries over to the game. It’s a little bit different” than it is next to Stephenson “but you’ve just got to adjust to each guy.”
Ironically enough, Fulton’s older brother, Xavier, was Allen’s offensive line teammate at Illinois.
Allen said the Fulton brothers are similar.
“Zach’s a good kid, he’s from Chicago like me,” Allen said. “They’re both quiet guys, but they’re both good guys.”
Now Allen is confident he and Fulton will show more chemistry than they did a few weeks ago, and he’ll acquit himself quite well Sunday in his first significant action at a position he once enjoyed playing.
If he does, it will go a long way toward solidifying concerns about an offensive line that has much to prove with Stephenson out for the first four games.
“There’s things we need to work on,” Allen said. “When you come off a bad one, a bad week, you come back that next week ready to work even harder to come out and redeem yourself.”