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Chiefs preseason offensive line: What we've learned so far, where we're headed

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The second preseason game was predictably a challenge for the patchwork Kansas City Chiefs offensive line. They were playing one of the most athletic defensive lines (and linebacker corps) in the NFL. Seattle has proven to be more than most NFL offensive lines to handle even when at "full strength".

Unfortunately, we have yet to see the 2015 Chiefs offensive line at full strength. Eric Fisher is out with an ankle sprain, Jeff Allen has a knee sprain and the coaching staff has continuously shuffled the remaining group (other than Ben Grubbs and Mitch Morse).

This week, Andy Reid's "Best Five" included Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at RG and Paul Fanaika at RT. Clearly, the plan for this season doesn't have these two starting ... right?

The game started off on an ominous note with a roughing the passer call, followed by a sack, followed by another hit on QB Alex Smith. This must mean that the two "new starters" are "garbage", right? Fans on Twitter and in comments sections across the web seemed to think so...

Here's a quick summary of what happened on the first two plays of the Chiefs preseason game vs Seattle.

Play No. 1: Incomplete deep to Albert Wilson, roughing the passer penalty

  • Grubbs had to pull across the formation to block the DE with help from Charles ... they did so, five yards deep in the backfield.
  • Stephenson had help from Kelce. They successfully made their combo block.
  • Morse and LDT tried to double team the DT, who split their block and headed into the backfield.
  • Fanaika was left to block two guys, Bennett and Wright. He slowed them up for a second, but when an OL tries blocking two defenders he usually ends up blocking neither ... and that's pretty much what Fanaika did.
  • I question the protection call here as LDT would have been much better off taking one of the defenders on the right side instead of combo blocking with Morse. I'm not sure if this was a poor decision by LDT or the wrong call by Morse or a miscommunication ... either way, it was a busted play.
  • That said, nobody was overwhelmed or dominated by a defender, and nothing on this play made me think this group CAN'T get the job done ... they just didn't in this case.

Play No. 2: Seattle sacks Alex Smith for a loss of eight yards

  • Morse is pulling to the right side where he helps Shag on a block and Fanaika is left with no one to hit.
  • Meanwhile, Grubbs and LDT are both beat by athletic DTs.
  • To my eye, Grubbs was trying to reset and may have been able to do so but he ran into (tripped over) LDT and Brandon Mebane who ends up with the sack.
  • Stephenson does his job mirroring on the blind side.
  • This was a busted pass protection play, as LDT and Grubbs ended up on the ground, Fanaika is blocking air and Alex had no chance against a fierce pass rush.

Donald Stephenson

Overall Impression: Stephenson had a very good game. He shows great feet and balance on the left side and can move really well. He's not overpowering people, but he's very adept at getting himself between the defender and the ball-carrier / passer. My concern is that he's more comfortable at LT than RT ... and his skill-set may not translate as well on the other side once Fisher is healthy.

PFF Grade: + 0.9 (allowed one hurry in 39 snaps)

Ben Grubbs

Overall impression: Grubbs was fantastic once again. He shows good power but also great awareness and technique. He's clearly the best lineman on the team and will be a steadying force in 2015.

PFF Grade: +0.8 (allowed one hurry in 39 snaps)

Mitch Morse

Overall Impression: Morse struggled a fair amount, to my eye. He had quite a few losses when bull rushed. He again showed the ability to block in space, and did some very good work on combo blocks this week. We also haven't discussed his snapping of the ball ... which is a good thing. The exchanges both under center and in shotgun have been clean and quick.

PFF Grade: +0.6 (allowed one hurry in 39 snaps)

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Overall Impression: LDT clearly took a step back this week, both figuratively and literally. He seemed to struggle with assignments and awareness but showed good strength and leverage at various times throughout the game. It would appear that he does have the physical tools but is still early in his development. Most of the mistakes I saw from "Dr. Moose" seemed mental (missed assignments, lunging, etc.) and not physical. These are the types of things that can be corrected with reps.

PFF Grade: -4.7 (two sacks, one hurry in 39 snaps)

Paul Fanaika

Overall impression: Fanaika actually held up pretty well at RT to be honest (I know). He's played very little tackle in his NFL career and drew a VERY tough matchup facing Michael Bennett who is lightning quick for a d-lineman. Fanaika can absolutely be a valuable backup RT and RG for this team. I noticed at least two "pancakes" for Fanaika vs. Seattle, something I remember from his 2014 film as well. He struggles vs. speed but can really move a defender when he gets his hands on them.

PFF Grade: -1.1 (one hit, one hurry in 39 snaps)

Nick Jacobs grades on a different scale than I do, but I'll include his summary here. The conclusions he reached are fairly similar to my impressions. The only difference is that he had Fanaika struggling more than LDT, and I saw it the opposite.

This group of linemen showed good ability to get out in space on screen plays and improved at picking up stunts and blitzes this week. There were some lapses, which tend to stick out in our minds, but I actually felt better after watching them a second time.

Given what I saw on film from the first two preseason games, along with the scoring from PFF and Nick Jacobs, I think we can put these five offensive linemen in categories: (I've included in parentheses the players who weren't starters this week but appear to have good chances of making the roster):

Very few concerns

Donald Stephenson and Ben Grubbs

(Eric Fisher)

Some issues but clearly starting material

Mitch Morse

(Jeff Allen)

Developmental prospect with some major issues

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

(Jarrod Pughsley and Zach Fulton)

Backup player with limitations

Paul Fanaika

(Eric Kush and Derek Sherrod)

The remaining questions for the Chiefs offensive line:

  1. Can Eric FIsher and Jeff Allen get healthy in time for the opener?
  2. Will the coaches stick with the current starters, per the depth chart (Fisher, Grubbs, Morse, Allen, Stephenson)?
  3. Or will there be some surprises during roster cuts next week?

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