Chiefs’ Donald Stephenson will assume swing tackle role as he works his way back

Donald Stephenson, who was suspended for the Chiefs’ first four games, has returned in the role of swing tackle.
Donald Stephenson, who was suspended for the Chiefs’ first four games, has returned in the role of swing tackle. The Kansas City Star

When Donald Stephenson returned to the Chiefs before their game against San Francisco, it didn’t take long for him to learn what his role would be at the start.

Swing tackle. Just like last year.

Stephenson, a projected starter who was suspended for the Chiefs’ first four games for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs, understands where he stands on the team’s offensive-line hierarchy.

“I’ve got to work my way back,” Stephenson said. “I put myself in this position, so it’s on me to get back where I want to be.”

Stephenson did not play against the 49ers, but his experience — he played in all 16 regular-season games at right or left tackle last season, starting seven of them — will come in handy down the road, according to offensive-line coach Andy Heck.

“We had him available to us as a swing tackle last week,” Heck said. “It’s good to have Donald back in the mix. He’s a good football player. He’s part of our group. And the way we approach it in the O-line is ‘all hands on deck.’ We’re going to need everybody before it’s all said and done.”

Heck was asked if there will be an open competition at right tackle between Stephenson and Ryan Harris, who was signed right before training camp and has started all five games at right tackle.

“Right now Ryan (Harris) is doing a nice job in there and we have some good continuity going in there on the offensive line,” Heck said. “Getting Donald back in the mix, we’ll just see how it goes.”

Stephenson said he’s knows how to handle the role, after spending all of last year filling in for oft-injured starters Eric Fisher and Branden Albert.

“I did it last year,” Stephenson said. “You just stay prepared.”

Gaines ready to go

Starting nickel cornerback Chris Owens (knee) missed practice for the second consecutive day Thursday. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was asked who the next man up would be if Owens can’t go for Sunday’s game against the Chargers.

“I wouldn’t tell you who it’s gonna be,” Sutton said. “But we’re working a couple of different guys in there.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid indicated that third-round cornerback Phillip Gaines and Jamell Fleming, who was recently plucked from the Ravens’ practice squad, are two of those options.

It appears their teammates are comfortable with either player. Gaines suffered a concussion against the 49ers but has been a full participant in practice the last two days.

“We’ve seen all year what these guys can do at practice,” cornerback Sean Smith said. “They finally get their shot to go out there and make a name for themselves. I know they’re both very excited about the opportunity.”

Smith made it clear that both will be expected to come right in and continue the positive progress the group has made since last season.

“When we’re out there on the field, we’re not going to sugarcoat anything or hold anybody’s hand out there,” Smith said. “You’ve got to go out there and man up. And that’s something we know both of them are capable of doing. We expect them to keep the standard high.”

Gaines, who has been making noticeable progress on special teams for the last month, said the growth he’s seen in that area has carried over to the defensive side of the ball in practice, though he’s played just four of 318 possible game snaps.

“It’s more of a confidence thing,” Gaines said. “Once you get out there and make some plays, then you settle in a little more and the game slows down a bit more. I definitely think that it can help you on the defensive side, too.”

Injury report

Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who has missed the last three games because of a high ankle sprain, did not practice Thursday after practicing Monday and Wednesday. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is expected to address the situation during a press conference Friday.

Running back Cyrus Gray (fractured hand) also did not practice.

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to Follow him on Twitter at @TerezPaylor.