The way center Mitch Morse sees it, Thursday night was the kind of reality check the Chiefs’ offensive line needed.
The first string of linemen played only nine snaps in the 17-10 preseason loss to the Texans, but those nine snaps revealed plenty about the group tasked with protecting the Chiefs’ young quarterback this season.
Patrick Mahomes was hit on four of those snaps, including on the very first one.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Morse said. “You are not going to come off of that and be OK with how it went. Sometimes you need a kick in the pants to rev it up, get out there and see what you need to work on. If anything, we are glad it happened now. We wish it hadn’t happened, but if it’s going to happen, now is the time so we can get out there and be all cylinders firing by the end of training camp.
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“It’s not going to be perfect next game. We are just going to get better little by little every day. That’s all we can ask for.”
After being drilled from behind on the first play of the day — Houston’s Brennan Scarlett and Christian Covington beat left tackle Eric Fisher and left guard Cam Erving — Mahomes got through the final three snaps of the first series without taking another hit.
But the line broke down even more on the second series.
Mahomes delivered a clean screen pass to Tyreek Hill to open the series and followed up with another clean completion to Travis Kelce, getting the ball off just as the Texans’ pressure ramped up.
Mahomes ended his outing by taking three consecutive hits, beginning with a sack as Angelo Blackson slipped under Mitchell Schwartz to make the initial tackle. Soon after, Duke Ejiofor and Scarlett converged on Mahomes as they beat tight end Demetrius Harris and Fisher, respectively.
On the next snap, Mahomes targeted Kelce but badly overthrew him in the corner, absorbing a hard hit from Ejiofor as the outside linebacker spun around Schwartz to hit Mahomes with the ball leaving his hand.
The series ended on the next play when Mahomes was taken down by Ejiofor, Covington and Carlos Watkins, grounding the ball right before he was tackled.
“Protecting the quarterback is something we work very hard at,” offensive line coach Andy Heck said Sunday. “We’ve got to continue to work hard at it. You see on the first play of the game, our quarterback got hit. As an O-line, that’s not acceptable. We know the importance of protecting the quarterback, particularly early in the game. So we’re busting our butts out here, working on throwing our hands, making sure we’re accurate with those punches in our technique.”
Even after the breakdowns in Thursday’s game, the top offensive line unit remained the same in Saturday and Sunday’s practices until right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif left early to be evaluated for a head injury. With Duvernay-Tardif out, second-teamer Andrew Wylie took over at right guard.
Each first-string player on the Chiefs’ line — LT Fisher, LG Cam Erving, C Morse, RG Duvernay-Tardif, RT Schwartz — has at least four years of experience in the NFL. Fisher has six years’ experience with the Chiefs, and Schwartz has been in the league seven years.
Even so, the group still struggled to jump into the rhythm of a game on Thursday night.
“What I saw out of that group was great effort and intensity and probably a little bit of jitters and overdoing some things,” Heck said. “We’ve got a high standard. We’ve been a young O-line in the past, but right now, we’re one of the older, more experienced groups on this team. We expect a lot out of those guys and a lot out of ourselves in that area.
“So we know that we’ve got to amp up the intensity, put the pressure on ourselves, raise that bar a little bit and keep working hard.”
The Chiefs’ line will have a chance to give Mahomes a smoother start against the Falcons on Friday night before heading to Chicago the next week.
“I think you want to give the first few plays your quarterback an opportunity to get a rhythm going,” Morse said. “As an offensive line, we need to do a better job to give him that opportunity. So we go out there and we do what we’re told. That’s part of the gig.
“Coach puts together a great first few plays, first few drives, and that’s our chance to get out there and really protect.”