Today, we're going to talk about those controversial big uglies who haven't won a lot of friends so far in Kansas City.
Let's recap the grades so far:
Running Game - A
Wide Receivers - A-
Grade (so far): B
Quarterback - B
Running Game - A
Wide Receivers - B
Grade (so far): B+
More after the jump.
What the Chiefs Needed to do:
Call me crazy, but I thought the Chiefs' offensive line did just fine in pass protection last season. They started off rocky, but what's more important is how they closed out because that's an indicator of what we can expect going into next season. It seems pretty clear that there were a few factors affecting their performance early on: Matt Cassel either holding onto the ball too long or missing a hot route (which needs to change), Larry Johnson not doing enough to take pressure off the passing game, and the offensive line learning a totally new blocking scheme. We saw the offensive line take enormous leaps once they sorted through the last two problems.
On the run blocking side, it's pretty obvious that the Running Back was the source of the problem. The offensive line looked pretty good blocking in front of a Running Back who actually knew how to sniff out a hole, didn't they.
At Left Tackle, I still have confidence that Branden Albert can be a franchise Left Tackle. He clearly has the athleticism and that's something you really want, given that the Chiefs are now building around a very fast running game. All he needs is experience--people forget that he's had to learn two schemes, had to learn an entirely new scheme late in the preseason last year, and is only two years removed from playing Guard on a regular basis. The Chiefs did, however, need to find themselves quality depth at Left Tackle--I never understood why the Chiefs cut Herb Taylor, because to me, Barry Richardson just doesn't cut it. At Left Guard, Brian Waters isn't what he used to be, but he can still play. The Chiefs needed to get younger here and maybe those solutions are in-house, whether that's Daryl Harris or even a guy like Colin Brown. At Center, I think Rudi Niswanger got a raw deal. He didn't play all that poorly toward the end of the season. He's a smart, seasoned Center who seems to be getting better; however, I do think he has a fairly limited upside and I think he's probably an average Center at best. Still, I don't think he's a major liability at this point and I think Center's a position where you don't necessarily have to have a physically gifted player--as long as he's smart, which Rudi is. At Right Guard, the Chiefs needed an option. Any option. And at Right Tackle, Ryan O'Callaghan is adequate--a pretty good run blocker, but a little weak in pass protection.
The starters needed some upgrades. What the Chiefs really needed was depth.
What the Chiefs Did:
The Chiefs focused on bringing in some older stopgaps that should help the Chiefs buy a little bit of time to develop their youth or bring in younger replacements. Ryan Lilja was a great pickup, though given the size of his contract, you have to wonder if he's more of an injury concern than we realize. It's also interesting that they brought him in to play Left Guard, which is currently occupied by Brian Waters. The Chiefs have no choice but to play one of those two guys out of position and that will probably be Lilja. So the Lilja signing was great because it was the best they could really do this offseason, but it's a little imperfect. I actually don't think the Chiefs gained or lost much by swapping Lilja (out of position) in place of Wade Smith, especially given that Smith is less of an injury concern.
Casey Wiegmann adds some nice depth to the interior offensive line and hopefully gives Niswanger the kick in the pants he needs to get a little bit better. I'm not that sure if Wiegmann is actually going to start--he's getting up there in age and he's always been a bit of a liability against some of the bigger tackles--not good in a division of 3-4 defenses.
The best addition the Chiefs made was bringing in Jon Asamoah. The Chiefs badly needed quality youth on the interior line and he has the flexibility to play anywhere. I think the Chiefs will take it slow--I just don't see Asamoah starting this season. However, I think giving him a year to develop under Bill Muir is going to be extremely valuable and I see him being the eventual replacement for Brian Waters (and I'd be pretty surprised if that wasn't the case next season).
Grade: Current Offensive Line Depth - C+
I think the front office mostly did the best they could do this offseason to improve the team's depth, but it seems like the Chiefs are rich with talent on the interior but devoid of it on the outside. That's something that scares me given that the Chiefs are going to be running a lot of plays to the outside and have a QB who might need a little bit more time to get rid of the ball. If either Albert or O'Callaghan fall to injury, the Chiefs are in really, really big trouble. And don't rule that out--both have missed some time in their career to injury already.
What keeps the grade a little afloat is that the Chiefs have a pretty solid rotation of players on the inside. They have some good stopgap veterans, but they also have a pipeline of interesting developmental players. Asamoah leads the pile, but it will be interesting to see how Colin Brown and Daryl Harris develop. If the Chiefs can get two of those guys to become solid Guards, that's just one less position you have to worry about next season.
So the starters are all pretty solid, but none of them are going to make you do cartwheels (though, I think Albert has the potential to). The depth is weak at the Tackle position and may or may not be strong on the interior, depending on the way these young guys develop.
Grade: Chiefs Offseason Moves - B+
Again, I'm grading on a bit of a curve because I don't think there's a lot the Chiefs could have done. I think I was a little tougher on this grade than I needed to be only because I think the Tackle position could have been addressed just a little bit better, but I also understand that the options were fairly limited and I wouldn't really substitute swap anyone from the Chiefs' draft out to bring a Tackle in.
Next, we'll wrap up the offense evaluations and give a final grade, as well as assess the offensive coaching staff.