Coming into the season, the Kansas City Chiefs knew they needed to make changes to the offensive line. After an aggressive offseason in which general manager Brett Veach acquired new talent at each position on the line, offensive line coach Andy Heck was tasked with putting all them together to protect the franchise’s most valuable player: quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
With five new starters on opening day, the revamped offensive line was going to need time to gel. But now — midway through the season — Football Outsiders data ranks the unit 12th in run blocking and sixth in pass blocking. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus grades rank Kansas City as second-best in run blocking and sixth-best in pass blocking.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck talked about his new left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who was acquired through a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Yeah, he’s come a long way,” said Heck. “I’ve really been pleased with how he’s worked and progressed every day — every week. He’s a football guy. He loves football. He wants to be great. So you can work with that.”
But Heck said that when transitioning to the Chiefs’ pass-first offense, there is still a lot for Brown to absorb.
“There’s so many little details, angles, this and that, the other communication,” he noted. “It takes time to pick these things up.
“It’s not just Orlando, but across the board. That’s what’s happening with these guys. They’re grabbing on to some of these things.”
Those players include two rookies: center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith, with whose progress Heck is pleased.
“In some respects, you could say that I’m definitely pleased with how these young men are working — and then showing improvement [while] growing as a new unit at the beginning of the year.” he said. “And so every week, you see us grabbing onto one more detail — but particularly [with] those young guys.
“And when you talk about Creed in there at the center position — kind of quarterbacking the O-Line — he’s been outstanding: operating at a veteran level from the get-go. And then Trey has done a great job of being a physical presence in there. getting after guys physically and then showing some improvement as a pass protector and a run blocker.”
Heck said that Humphey is among the best he’s ever coached.
“It has seemed awfully rare to me.” Heck remarked of the young player’s talent. “But you start with good people who love football — and so there’s going to be different learning curves that go on there. We’ve had some good people and good football players that love football here; I’ve had the privilege to coach a few of them. And Creed is among the best of that group — right there.”
Highest-graded rookie centers in Weeks 1-10 since 2006:— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) November 18, 2021
1. Creed Humphrey (90.4)
2. Nick Mangold (88.3) pic.twitter.com/dEuGfQgXzU
Heck attributed Humphrey and Smith’s development to the offseason work done by the entire organization.
“Right from the get go from the OTA’s work, Creed kind of showed that he could handle it,” he recalled. “There was nothing he couldn’t handle in there. So we said, ‘Let’s get the ball rolling right there at the center spot.’
“And then with Trey, we had [Kyle Long] in there. We had some other guys in there. And then there was a practice where he stepped in. And what jumps out at [us] is his physical dominance — his strength, his size, his aggressiveness. While there’s a learning curve going on there, he brings something [of] an A-plus talent to the table — something special [is] going on there. So [he’s] definitely worth working with.”
Heck also wanted to push back on the idea that interior offensive linemen have an easier transition to the NFL than tackle.
“I think tackles are on display for everyone to easily see any little error,” he observed. “They’re out there in that in the space — much like a cover corner. And so some things can get hidden to the naked eye on the interior.
“That said, that’s tough work in there on those interior spots... Mentally, it’s more challenging; [there’s] more going on: little details, little angles — and then physically, man, that’s pretty noisy in there.”
While four of the team’s Week 1 starters haven’t missed a snap, the right tackle position has had some turnover. In Week 6, Lucas Niang was replaced by Mike Remmers — the lone standout from the 2020 offensive line. After an injury to Remmers during the Week 7 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Niang came back to the starting lineup.
Heck said that the team sees a lot of potential in Niang, too.
“So starting with Lucas, [he’s] another young guy: [a] big physical presence and a good pass protector,” said Heck. “So he’s working with some good fundamentals right from the get-go. And so he’s been learning [and] working hard. He’s another guy that wants to be an excellent football player.”
But Remmers — now in his ninth NFL season — brings a different set of skills.
“The thing that Mike brings to the table is not only his versatility but his veteran leadership,” noted Heck. “[It] just felt like it was the right time to infuse some of that energy that he brings me. He’s a physical, fun guy that loves to get after people — and can do the job at multiple positions. And so that was a good infusion of energy right there.”
But after he suffered a rib injury against the Green Bay Packers, Niang was replaced with veteran Andrew Wylie, who has played multiple positions for the Chiefs over the years.
“Andrew [is] very similar to Mike in that way: a versatile guy who loves ball,” Heck observed. And you can go ask him to do any number of jobs — and do it at a high level.”
In his first game at right tackle, Wylie struggled against the Green Bay edge rushers. But it was a different story the following week, when he played against his old Eastern Michigan teammate Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders.
“Was it his best? I don’t know,” said Heck of Wylie’s game in Las Vegas. “[But] I was really proud of him. He had a great challenge in working against an old teammate — a very good rusher. And he went out there and battled. And then, hey... he won some — [and] he lost some.
“But the thing I was most pleased about was, ‘Okay. He got me on that one’ — and he came right back and then put together a great snap against him. And that’s one of the things I love about Andrew: [when] he has a moment’s notice, I could say, ‘Hey, go! Jump in there — left guard.’ He would do it — and do a nice job.”
Remmers was placed on the Reserve/Injured list last Saturday. This week, Niang has yet to practice — a sign that he isn’t expected to play on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Wylie will need to be ready.