Throughout the years and particularly this preseason, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line has often been a subject of controversy and ire.
The Chiefs have made strides along the offensive line by adding and developing first-overall pick Eric Fisher, drafting second-round pick Mitch Morse, developing a top-tier right guard in Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and acquiring top-tier right tackle Mitchell Schwartz but have always left the remaining guard spot up for grabs for someone to show up and take.
Traditionally, in football, having a single weakness along the line is not a killer, unless that player ends up being so bad they can’t even slow down an opponent (see Mike McGlynn). Last year, the Chiefs offensive line was just above average in most overall rankings despite below average guard play from Bryan Witzmann.
Going into this year, left guard appeared to be the biggest position battle on the docket: Witzmann vs Parker Ehinger.
In the process of working these guys into the lineup, the Chiefs decided that Erving is part of Andy Reid’s patented “best five.”
Since games have been played, this move has come under even more scrutiny, as Erving has showed plenty of flashes of being close to McGlynn-level bad, especially in pass protection.
Adding some fuel to the fire, Duvernay-Tardif suffered a concussion towards the end of training camp and has missed the last two preseason games. The Chiefs have trotted out Andrew Wylie, a late 2017 practice squad signee, in his place. In Wylie’s reps with the starters the past two weeks, the Chiefs have likely reached two conclusions:
- He has beaten out Witzmann and Ehinger as the sixth offensive lineman
- Many are wondering about his potential as a starting left guard in place of Erving
That leaves us in the basement of Arrowhead Pride headquarters sitting in The Lab breaking down the tape of undrafted second-year utility offensive lineman Andrew Wylie.
Offensive lineman Andrew Wylie
The first thing you notice with Wylie when the tape pops on is that he’s an easy mover in pretty much every aspect.
He has the hip flexibility to reach blockers and then flip around them, the explosion forward to the second level as well as backward to pull around the edge and the lateral movement to mirror rushers trying to go around him.
This should come as no surprise, as Wylie’s Pro Day was quite impressive and he is an offensive lineman playing for Andy Reid after all.
The play before the "illegal formation" should be a TD off the Inside Zone. Wylie does a good job of helping his backside gap then getting to the 2nd lvl. Erving combos with Morse to set him up then knocks back the LB trying to slip in. Hunt's gotta see that one. pic.twitter.com/RopfwbRJcV— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 20, 2018
Wylie starts off the snap here with a combo block to allow Mitchell Schwartz to get the defensive tackle and then immediately explodes up to the second level to get the linebacker coming into the A-gap.
He ends up pushing the linebacker directly into the gap. Hunt runs into it, and it was more of a mistake by Hunt than Wylie doing anything incorrectly.
The ability to quickly work a combo block, then get into second-level players is going to be paramount to the Chiefs’ rushing attack this year, especially if Eric Bieniemy is going to continue to sprinkle in a few more power running plays. Wylie’s athleticism doesn’t stop with the run game, either. Like some other guards on the Chiefs roster, he’s still a fluid mover going backward and laterally.
I like the interior OL to look for work when they don't have a hat on em. Wylie works with Schwartz and pushes the DE out wide and quickly gets back to his gap in case the NT works back across. The NT is going that thanks to an Erving hit but Wylie is back there to finish pic.twitter.com/PTfxRZxLY9— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 27, 2018
You want to see Wylie get a little more depth with his initial drive-catch phase here. He covers almost no ground, but part of that is his reliance on quick setting as well.
After the initial step, Wylie takes a quick 45-degree angle set to get out wide in case the defensive end tries to split him and Schwartz. That kind of backward explosion is what should be happening on his first step as opposed to the second step so often, but that should also come with more experience.
After he recognizes the defensive end is going into Schwartz’s gap, Wylie quickly works back across his gap to help with the nose tackle that got knocked his direction.
He doesn’t have to actually do anything, but the quick recovery and flipping his hips to get back to the other side of his gap in two steps was impressive. The movement skills of Wylie are great but also nearly a given for any Reid offensive lineman.
What makes Wylie intriguing is that he certainly plays with a little bit of a mean streak and has some good power throughout his entire body.
Good initial punch by Wylie that slows the DT and Wylie starts moving his feet to stay balanced. Outside hand isn't in a great spot and gets knocked off but Wylie has a wide, low base which allows him to bend and recover up and under the DT who's he's forced upright. + recovery pic.twitter.com/E0tdevSGKc— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 27, 2018
This play starts with a quick set by Wylie and a solid two-hand punch that slows the defender’s momentum out of his stance.
Unfortunately, Wylie’s outside hand landed a little high and the defender takes control/leverage on that outside shoulder and forces him into opening his outside hip while trying to maintain his balance.
Rather than just trying to run the rusher up the arc to the outside, Wylie shows fantastic core strength and a great recovery to stonewall the defender right there. As he is being forced to open his hips, Wylie is able to take another step back with his outside foot while bending laterally at his hips to get his outside hand back underneath and on the outside rib cage of the defender. This inside, low punch reestablishes outside control, forcing the defender to work back through Wylie. It also gives Wylie the leverage, as the defender is now standing straight up, allowing Wylie to re-square his hips/butt to the quarterback for a cleaner pocket.
The anti-rotational strength displayed despite losing outside leverage quickly but being able to recover is a very impressive ability in Wylie. These have all been relatively raw traits with some skilled nuances sprinkled in, but, for the most part, that is what Wylie is at this point in time.
It’s showing that he’s still mastering the craft of being a complete lineman.
Bad Counter run all around for the OGs here. Wylie comes in too forward and gets hit with an arm over and ends up on the ground. Erving has a chance to salvage the run for at least a chance for a few yards but whiffs on the DT that beat Wylie while pulling around. pic.twitter.com/VVizlOyuKj— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 26, 2018
This is concern No. 1A (I’ll get back to this) for Wylie right now, and it’s simply his lack of a solid base and good foundation going into his engagements. Whether in space or shooting off the line of scrimmage, Wylie is often lunging into contact rather than rolling his hips underneath him.
This can lead to plays like this, in which a defender simply slides laterally out of Wylie’s path. If Wylie can’t get his hands on them in the process, he stumbles forward or falls to the ground.
There have been a few other plays where in which actually gets good hand placement and initial push with this same lunging technique, but what often happens there is a defender eventually anchors and spins/twists Wylie off of his body because he’s playing with his hips so far behind him.
Wylie is a pretty decent athlete, so despite approaching his space blocks the same way, he often at least makes some form of contact. But with his hips out behind him, he tends to shove the defender rather than locking on and driving him.
Very next snap, Wylie shows no foot movement at all and gets torched. Almost looks like he's looking for another blitzer up the middle but has to keep his feet going. pic.twitter.com/DEAnIke78T— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 26, 2018
If the above was problem 1A for Wylie, this is problem 1B.
He’s predictable in his pass sets.
Nearly every single pass set he takes is a quick set with a two-hand punch if he has a rusher in his gap or the Chiefs are blocking with a man protection.
He, but not on this snap, can move his feet backward and laterally to stay in position, but his initial set is almost always a quick set with little depth, and he tries to get his hands on someone early.
He needs to use some single-hand stabs, a little catch technique with his hands or just about anything else so he can mix up his sets and become less predictable.
Should he start?
At this point, everything we’ve seen from Wylie should at least give us the confidence that he wouldn’t be any worse than Witzmann, who started at left guard last year.
Wylie is still an incredibly raw player, so there is also a higher ceiling to be had from what we saw last year. If we were looking at this position battle as of last year, Wylie should have been the easy choice to get starting reps along the offensive line.
This year, however, Erving seems to have the trust of the coaching staff and appears to have a grip on the starting role. When comparing the players directly, they have a lot of similarities in that their raw traits are pretty good, but their skills are rather unrefined and can generate some bad losses far too often.
Between the two of them, Wylie seems to have his bad losses come in one specific way and a little less frequently.
This should be an open competition between the two going forward based on the caliber of play that we’ve seen thus far, but Erving likely holds the small edge simply because he has more tools to his tool belt.
Wylie has shown a ton of promise, but he’s a little static in his approach in both the run and passing game right now.
He’s not bad, and if he’s forced into starting reps, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but right now, he’s a bit too one-dimensional in his approach to each snap to get the full endorsement over a veteran player.
Looking forward to 2019, however, Wylie could very much be in play as a starting offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, bordering even on a favorite.