With Patrick Mahomes at the helm, the Chiefs’ blockers benefit from an ability to elude pressure and make plays even if the protection isn’t great. But the team can’t afford to leave him without able blockers.
In the run game, the Chiefs may not have even one player (like Jamaal Charles) who can make something out of nothing, so they’ll rely on athletic offensive linemen, fullbacks, receivers and tight ends to pave the way to a balanced offense. These guys and Mahomes will make each other better this season, and neither should be taken for granted.
1. There’s suddenly a logjam at interior offensive line
After losing Mitch Morse and Jeff Allen, it’s a bit surprising to say that the interior offensive line is one that is full of depth and competition. Andrew Wylie and Austin Reiter appear poised to take starting spots, at least to open camp. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is back and healthy again and presumably a lock at right guard. The wild cards here are Kahlil McKenzie and Nick Allegretti, both of whom should be given ample chance to compete for depth roles, with the potential to play guard or center. Ryan Hunter is a 2018 holdover that was mentioned by old friend BJ Kissel as a player to watch in camp. Cameron Erving, the incumbent at left guard, feels like he could be the odd man out given the potential in many of these younger players.
2. Perhaps the days of two-tight end sets are over?
Multiple tight end formations were once a staple of the Andy Reid offense, but there is reason to believe they’ll be used less this going forward. Gone is Demetrius Harris, who saw the field a lot over the last few seasons. In his absence, a handful of journeymen and rookies will attempt to stand out in St. Joseph. There should still be some packages that include extra blockers from the tight end position, but with the evolution of spread offense concepts, and the developing weapons among the back and receivers, it’s possible that Reid’s go-to formation might be changing.
3. Could the blocking tight end actually be a fullback?
If the Chiefs can’t count on the tight end depth behind Kelce, perhaps they’ll find more uses for Anthony Sherman in his secondary position group. John Lovett is another guy that might have a shot to split time between the two spots. When Mahomes absolutely needs an extra second to throw or the team has to earn the tough yards on the ground, they might call on another back instead of another tight end.
4. The irreplaceable tackles
Mahomes and the Chiefs are lucky to have stability at both offensive tackle positions, something that is becoming more difficult to come by in today’s NFL. Eric Fisher has come a long way in his career and is now a solid left tackle by nearly any measure. He’s proven to be durable and reasonably consistent. On the other side of the line is one of the league’s true iron men, an All-Pro and apparently a great cook, Mitch Schwartz. As long as those two players are on the field, the tackle positions are in very good hands.
The issue, of course, would be if either missed any significant time. The Chiefs have no obvious answer to step up in their place. Looking at the roster as of now, Erving might be the only player that could be a backup tackle. I thought this was a position they’d address this offseason, and they still might. If not, they should wrap Fisher and Schwartz in a mile of bubble wrap this summer, as they’re among the most irreplaceable players on the roster right now.
5. Pass protection, it’s not just for the big guys
As others have pointed out, we can get a hint as to the outlook for each of the running backs by seeing who can hold their own in pass protection during camp. It’s not an easy task for many young running backs to earn the coaches’ trust in pass protection, but once they do, they can carve out a role that gets them on the field for significant snaps. We already know who the starter is, but blocking is the key to determining who the backups will be.
From the upside down: receivers on the bubble
Blocking may be more important than playmaking ability for the young receivers. We get fooled every year by rookies who make splashy catches in the preseason, and every year we can’t believe that some of them didn’t make it past roster cuts. If guys like Cody Thompson or Jamal Custis are to make the roster, they’ll have to prove they can do more than catch a lot of passes in St Joseph. They’ll have to be key cogs in Reid’s extensive screen game by getting down the field and clearing the way for all of the plays Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams will make.
Regardless of the play call, receivers blocking downfield are often the difference between a short gain and an explosive play. Gehrig Dieter and Byron Pringle have a leg up on the competition for a roster spot and for Chris Conley’s snaps given their experience from last season. If the rookies want to be a big part of the offense, they’ll learn to block early, and execute often.