Injuries could cause the Chiefs to start a patchwork offensive line on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Based on how the Chiefs lined up during the early portion of practice on Friday, veteran newcomer Russ Hochstein lined up at center in place of Ryan Lilja, who was on the exercise bike because of a knee inujry. Tackle Eric Winston moved into the right guard position vacated by Jon Asamoah, who underwent thumb surgery earlier this week and has been ruled out for the game. Rookie Donald Stephenson, the Chiefs’ second-round draft pick, was at right tackle.
It’s possible Lilja was just given a day off and could play either guard or center on Sunday, though all indications are Hochstein will play center and Lilja right guard, if he’s available.
Lilja, who moved from left guard to center after Rodney Hudson suffered a broken leg in week three at New Orleans, had not been on the injury report until Friday, nor was he mentioned by head coach Romeo Crennel on Friday morning as being a question for Sunday’s game. But Lilja has missed and been limited in practice because of back issues during the season.
“You play where you play,” Winston said of having to pinch hit at guard if necessary. “In my career, I’ve played left tackle, right tackle, left guard and left guard. Obviously, I look at myself as a right tackle, but if the team needs you to play a position, you go out there and do it the best you can.
“They’re mixing guys around and trying to find the best five. You try to put the best five that works together on the field.”
Besides Asamoah, wide receiver Jon Baldwin (head/neck) and tight end Jake O’Connell (ankle) have been ruled out for Sunday. Lilja and quarterback Brady Quinn (concussion) were listed as questionable.
Quinn was to be re-evaluated on Friday after completing a week of practice, and then his status as a backup to Matt Cassel will be determined before game time.
The Bengals listed wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) and safety Reggie Nelson (hamstring) as doubtful; and center Jeff Faine (hamstring) and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (knee) as questionable.
Lost amid the end zone celebrations and overtime defeat at Pittsburgh last week was the Chiefs’ defensive performance against the Steelers.
The Chiefs held Pittsburgh to one offensive touchdown in losing 16-13 and moved from 17th to 11th in total defense going into Sunday’s game against Cincinnati.
Could it be attributed to some new wrinkles installed by Gary Gibbs, who was elevated to defensive coordinator last week? Or did the fact Pittsburgh was missing starting wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Rashard Mendenhall, and lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury on the first possession of the third quarter, contribute to the Chiefs allowing their fewest yards (249) and fewest yards per play (4.0 ) in a game this season?
“The guys are beginning to come together as a unit,” said Crennel, who relinquished his duties as defensive coordinator when promoting Gibbs. “They’re gaining the confidence in each other that you need to be a good defense, and they are understanding what everybody’s role is.”
Crennel wouldn’t say what nuances Gibbs installed in the defense that allowed just 3.3 yards per rush, and a season-low 157 passing yards.
“Our system is our system,” Crennel said, “and we play our system.”
Father vs. son
The game against Cincinnati will pit father vs. son as Chiefs defensive assistant/assistant linebackers coach Adam Zimmer will be across the field from his father, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
“Adam is a smart young coach,” Crennel said. “He has a bright future in this coaching profession. He’s coming from a coaching family, and it seems like the guys with that background, who have the desire to get into coaching, turn out to be pretty good.”