Since head coach Andy Reid first came to town in 2013, Kansas City Chiefs fans have gone into every season worried about the offensive line.
Not only have there been concerns about the development of offensive linemen the Chiefs have drafted — like left tackle Eric Fisher and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — there’s also been worry about the parade of veteran players that have been acquired in attempts to solidify the line. Players like Ryan Harris, Ben Grubbs, Mike McGlynn and Jah Reid all came and went. Standouts like Rodney Hudson, Jeff Allen and Geoff Schwartz were lost in free agency.
But starting in 2016 — when Fisher and Duvernay-Tardif had finally come into their own, 2015 draft pick Mitch Morse solidified his position as the starting center and veteran Mitchell Schwartz was brought in at right tackle — that Chiefs offensive line began to come into focus.
Coming into 2018, the last remaining question was at left guard. Would Witzmann retain the position he played in 2017 or would he be replaced by 2016 draft pick Parker Ehinger? But on August 31, the Chiefs traded Ehinger to the Dallas Cowboys and on September 3, Witzmann was released.
The next day, the Chiefs signed former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Cam Erving — who had been a swing tackle for the Chiefs in 2017 — to a two-year contract extension. Here at Arrowhead Pride, we assumed Erving would continue to be a swing tackle. But as we would soon learn, Erving would be the starter at left guard.
While Erving had never been a fan favorite, the Chiefs entered 2018 with a more stable offensive line than at any time since Reid’s arrival, and the unit played well in the opening weeks of the season — which pleasantly surprised more than a few Chiefs who had been concerned about Erving’s ability to hold down the left guard position.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last.
In the Week 5 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif suffered a leg fracture that will — at best — keep him on injured reserve until late in the season. The following week against the New England Patriots, Mitch Morse suffered a concussion and remains in concussion protocol.
Fifth-year player Jordan Devey — who came to the Chiefs in 2016 after stints with the Patriots and San Francisco 49ers — filled in admirably when Duvernay-Tardif was first injured and shifted to center the following week when Morse suffered his concussion. Andrew Wylie — an unheralded UDFA rookie — took over at right guard. Both started in those positions Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Then on Tuesday, Devey was unexpectedly placed on injured reserve and is likely out for the season. Although few fans noticed it on Sunday night, Devey was injured in the first quarter — as explained by Chiefs VP of sports medicine Rick Burkholder on Wednesday.
“Jordan came to me in the first quarter of the game and had a right arm, shoulder problem,” explained Burkholder. “He had a big laceration and pretty significant cleat mark on his right arm. He felt like he could play, we felt like he could play. He came in after the game, we tested him again and then decided to get an MRI because things didn’t add up. It looked like he got stepped on. Turned out, with the MRI, he had a right pectoralis major tear.”
Devey deserves a lot of credit for finishing the game — as noted by quarterback Patrick Mahomes on Wednesday.
“It’s unreal. I actually saw when he did it and I looked at him and I said, ‘Are you good?’ He said, ‘I’m good to go.’ And I was, ‘Alright, let’s go.’ He played the whole game and fought through — and they had some dudes in the middle, too. He fought his tail off, played a really good game with basically one arm.”
Even with Devey playing injured, the Chiefs offensive line allowed just one sack on 13 pressures against the Bengals, and Mahomes was able to throw for 358 yards and four touchdowns on the day.
According to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, that’s a credit to both general manager Brett Veach and offensive line coach Andy Heck.
“Things happen. That’s the National Football League,” said Reid on Wednesday. “Brett has done a good job of bringing guys in. Reiter is here and he has experience, so he can step in if needed, and Allen can play if needed. Andy does a great job of rotating those guys during practice, now, [during] OTAs, and [during] training camp. Everyone can kind of work into all the positions. We don’t get concerned about that, we just try to move forward. If you can go then you can go, if you can’t you can’t, and we move on.”
Reid was referring to Austin Reiter — a third-year player who spent two years with the Browns before being picked up by the Chiefs on waivers in September — and former Chief Jeff Allen, who was re-signed by the Chiefs on October 16. Allen was a a second-round draft pick for the Chiefs in 2012, went to the Houston Texans in free agency in 2016, and was placed on Houston’s PUP list last spring.
This week, the Chiefs also promoted center James Murray from the practice squad and filled that vacancy by signing offensive tackle Pace Murphy.
All of the backup offensive linemen now on the roster — except for Allen — have playing experience at center. At this writing, the Chiefs haven’t yet committed themselves to a starting center for the game against the Broncos on Sunday — but as our own Pete Sweeney noted on Thursday, a starting lineup of Fisher, Wylie, Erving, Allen and Schwartz would be a good bet.
(Note: the Chiefs announced on Friday afternoon that Austin Reiter will replace Jordan Devey at center against Denver)
It’s been a long road to where we are with the Chiefs offensive line under Andy Reid. But their success in 2018 — even with all the chaos from injuries in recent weeks — can be attributed in part to Reid’s continued insistence on versatility in his offensive linemen.
As we clearly see this week, versatility gives the Chiefs a lot of options when players are injured — and explains why the Chiefs were willing to give a contract extension to Erving at the beginning of the season. Like Zach Fulton before him, Erving can play just about anywhere on the line, which makes him very valuable to the Chiefs.
But the two biggest parts of this puzzle remain Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. When he was drafted, Fisher was considered to be a player that would require some development to reach his potential, and that evaluation was correct. But he’s now a solid left tackle. Schwartz’s acquisition two years ago solidified the right side of the line and opened the way for the Chiefs’ versatile offensive linemen to fight their way through adversity.
While Fisher and Schwartz will never go down in the history as bookend tackles, they’ve been more than enough to make the Chiefs offense productive — particularly in front of a passer like Mahomes, who is equally effective both inside and outside of the pocket.