Chiefs

Chiefs’ Stephenson isn’t being rushed back into duty following suspension

Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson, left, worked against defensive tackle Jaye Howard during training camp.
Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson, left, worked against defensive tackle Jaye Howard during training camp. The Kansas City Star

When Lane Johnson returned to the Eagles this month following a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs, Philadelphia didn’t waste any time inserting him into the lineup.

Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, returned to his starting right tackle spot and helped the Eagles beat the Rams 34-28 on Oct. 5.

The Chiefs’ Donald Stephenson has not been as fortunate.

Stephenson, who also had to serve a four-game performance-enhancing-drug suspension to start the season, has yet to play a single snap on offense despite being eligible to return against San Francisco. (Stephenson did log five special-teams snaps against the Chargers on Sunday.)

The Chiefs’ third-round pick in 2012, Stephenson played all 16 games last season — when he outperformed starting left tackle Eric Fisher, according to Pro Football Focus — and was expected to be the team’s starting right tackle before the suspension.

One might surmise the Chiefs are making Stephenson pay penance for the timing and nature of the penalty, which was announced shortly before the season began. But Chiefs coach Andy Reid insisted Friday that is not the case.

“That’s not what we are doing — he’s gotten back into the swing,” Reid said. “We’ve eased him in a couple situations here, (so) that’s not what is going on. The problem is when you leave, other guys have a chance to play, and they are playing well. So that’s kind of where we are at.”

In Stephenson’s stead, seventh-year veteran Ryan Harris — who signed with the Chiefs a day before training camp started — has held the fort.

A former third-round pick of the Broncos in 2007, Harris has allowed two sacks and nine quarterback hurries, tied with rookie guard Zach Fulton for the most on the team.

However, Harris’ performance is tied for 36th out of the league’s 71 eligible tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, and he has provided a steadying influence on the right side of the line for the 3-3 Chiefs.

“Donald, he understands how it works,” Reid said. “Again, we mix him in there in different places.”

Reid was then asked if Stephenson is in football shape.

“Yeah, I think he’s about there,” Reid said. “Yeah he’s about there.”

He declined, however, to say if Stephenson is in line to get some work as a swing tackle this week.

“Yeah, we’ll see, we’ll see,” Reid said.

Stephenson, for his part, said he’s willing to be patient.

“Just have to stay ready,” Stephenson said.

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

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