If things continue the way they have been, Chiefs practice squad offensive lineman Michael Liedtke will have his name called sooner than later.
The Kansas City Chiefs have experienced more transition along the offensive front than arguably any other team in the NFL this season. Paul Fanaika and Ben Grubbs have been lost for the season. Mitch Morse, Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen have all missed multiple games. Jah Reid was signed six days before he started Week 1. Against the Buffalo Bills, the Chiefs were all out of back-ups.
Such transition is likely to give Liedtke the chance he's been waiting for. An undrafted free agent out of Illinois State (same school as James O'Shaughnessy), Liedtke originally landed with the Miami Dolphin after the draft but failed to make the final roster. Even after being cut, the 6'3, 310-pound lineman says he felt good enough about his film that he'd earn another chance. After working out for several teams, the Chiefs struck a deal and he's been on the practice squad since midseason.
We recently talked to Liedtke about the swirl of activity along the line, whether or not he's ready, and when he thinks his name could be called.
How are you feeling about getting up to speed?
Liedtke: The biggest thing is when you come in halfway through a season like I did here, the biggest thing is missing camp. When you're a young guy, missing camp means that I missed out on a lot of the fundamental, key parts of the offense that we run here. So the biggest thing coming in halfway is really getting caught up in the playbook. You get that through obviously studying on your own and talking with coaches. The biggest thing for me was, when we watched film every day, was that I'd try to quiz myself to know the plays to make sure I'm ready in case they ever need me.
How comfortable are you feeling with that idea?
Liedtke: I am starting to get real comfortable with it now. I think this is maybe the sixth, seventh or possibly even eighth week. Coming in, I'd switched to center which is a position I'd never played before. I had to learn what it is to play center in the NFL, so I felt like I'd started way behind the other guys, just because I'm learning a position that's new for me on top of the playbook.
As the weeks progress, I've been able to pick up fairly quickly on it. It just goes back to the guys to the room really helping me out if I have questions. They do a great job letting me know the right answers or where to search for them. It's been fun to watch my own development each week. Now that I've been here a while, I'm comfortable to the point that if they needed me for any reason, I'm more than confident that I could go out there and get the job done.
Coming into the league, I read about your work with Dylan Gandy where you knew you'd be along the interior of the line. Are you surprised by what the Chiefs are having you do?
Liedtke: No, coming out of college, my coaches always said I'd be a center in the NFL. That's my athletic style and body type. It's just where I fit. When I was in Miami from the draft until about halfway through the season, they had me playing right and left guard. It's right next to the center, so it's not much of a difference. It's more footwork and mental difference than guard.
So I knew I wouldn't be looked at as a tackle. I knew I'd be a center or guard. I got to play guard for a bit with Miami, so now I can add center to my resume. That's something that really helps me as a player a lot. I think it was the right move for me to get moved in to center when I came here, and I think the Chiefs like what they see. I'm also liking what I see from it, so I just gotta keep building on that.
You mentioned the mental demands. How are you feeling about that dimension?
Liedtke: Yeah, the center is the quarterback of the offensive line. He's the guy making the calls, so you really have to be keen and know what everybody across the line is doing. At other positions, you know what you and the guys next to you are doing, so you can get it done. But here you have to tell everyone where they're supposed to be and how they're supposed to do it. It's definitely a lot more mental weight put on your shoulders, but it's exciting. It keeps things interesting and fun for me.
Are you hearing things from the team in terms of a developmental plan?
Liedtke: No, it doesn't really happen like that. When you get here, you have to have the mindset that whenever they need you, you have to be ready. It's your job to make sure you're ready. You have to give them the faith in you to go out, if they do need you. As far as a development plan, I've talked with Coach Heck and Coach Chung. They obviously want to spend time with you to understand the player you are, understand how to develop you.
When you're coming in midseason, we're only worried about winning games, so you put the development on yourself. You just do what you need to do to get better at this. You can't let the coaches do it, because they have a lot on their shoulders. You try to prove that you're ready in practice. The film doesn't lie, so when you're giving looks to the defense, you have to make sure you're doing the things they want to see so they know you're ready.
How has it been watching from your position to see so many injuries at the very positions you play?
Liedtke: As far as the injuries that have happened, I think it says a lot about the guys and the type of team we have here that guys can get injured like that and the next man can step up and do almost as good of a job and we can continue to win games. That's what I've noticed. It's not about guys getting injured, but that guys can step in and not miss a beat. That's what I want to be able to do, so I'm trying to prepare. Obviously we all want the starters out there all of the time to give us the best chance to win, but if they're not able to, I want to prove I'm able to get the job done.
There aren't that many Illinois State football players in the NFL, so does that mean it's nice to have James O'Shaughnessy around?
Liedtke: It really is. When I first showed up here, it really helped me feel more comfortable just because I had somebody else that I'd spent the last five years of my life with. James and I are best friends off the field, too, so when I told him I was coming here, he was pretty ecstatic. I was happy to be here with him. It definitely helps to have that familiar face in my first couple of weeks to figure out where we're supposed to be or how to do something as a reference, but the guys here were all so inviting, I didn't need James that much.
Andy Reid referred to the cast of unique characters in the team's locker room earlier this week. Who's the biggest character of them all?
Liedtke: There are so many different personalities, but I would have to say the most outgoing would be [Travis] Kelce. He brings his own swagger to the game that most of the guys don't have. He does some interesting dances and things like that, but he backs them because he's such a great player. Kelce has the most unique personality, in a good way, that I've met.
I would think it would be pretty encouraging to have a team like the Chiefs sign you when you weren't even in their training camp, that you stand out more than guys they've been able to see up close.
Liedtke: It comes down to whether or not you can perform, and that shows on your film. Coming off of my first preseason, I was pretty confident that the film that I put out was going to be a product that teams could buy into. I had workouts with multiple other teams before the Chiefs ended up actually pulling the trigger and signing me once I left the Dolphins.
The Chiefs had a vision of the type I can be in the future, and I showed the glimpses here and there of what I needed to show. They've given me some time now and I think I've shown I can be the type of player they need and want for their system. The Chiefs took a chance on me and I'd like to think they're happy with what they've seen so far. I know I'm happy to be here.