During the 2021 offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs completely revamped their offensive line. It now seems more than just possible that when the team steps on to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium to face the Cleveland Browns on September 12, not a single player from 2020’s Week 1 starting lineup — or even those who started Super Bowl LV in February — will be taking the first snap with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when longtime Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck — who has held that position ever since head coach Andy Reid came to town in 2013 — had his first Zoom press conference of the season on Thursday, reporters were ready with some questions.
For football writers, talk-show hosts and even casual fans, predicting the team’s starting five offensive linemen has become a near-obsession. And when asked about it, Heck would only commit to getting it figured out as soon as possible.
“We’re going to need all hands on deck,” he declared. “That’s been my experience in the long haul: that by the end of the season, you’re going to have to have a number of guys ready — not just five guys. So that’s part of it.
“But as soon as we can, we want to figure out what that combination is going to be. In this type of an environment — an OTA where the emphasis is on learning the system, communication, learning some of the fundamentals and techniques — these serious position battles may not really be underway until we get the pads on.”
But if your entry form in the Guess Kansas City’s Starting Offensive Line Sweepstakes includes second-round rookie Creed Humphrey at center, Heck had some good news for you.
“What I liked most about Creed was his intelligence and his leadership ability,” he said of the former Oklahoma Sooner. “You’re looking for those ‘alphas’ — those guys that won’t shy away from a challenge, that don’t feel like they’ve got to stand back while other people lead. I like his confidence and again his intelligence — whether it’s football smarts [or] social smarts. So far, he’s been everything we’ve hoped for in that regard.”
Heck was also happy to agree with a reporter’s supposition that Humphrey’s wrestling background — his father and older brother were both champion wrestlers, and young Creed first took it up at the age of four — will help him in the NFL.
“It sure seems like a lot of the good interior players have that in their background,” said Heck. “I was never a wrestler — my brother was — and I appreciated watching those things. It would seem to me that just having a feel for leverage — and what do you do when you lose that leverage; now we’ve got to reposition and regain that leverage — it seems like it would tie in nicely with wrestling. So, if you’ve got that kind of experience — and that feel — it would stand to reason it would transfer to the football field.”
Heck has also been impressed with a player who may eventually be labeled as the biggest steal of the 2021 NFL Draft: sixth-round pick Trey Smith of Tennessee.
“I do think that Trey has ‘starting guard’ in his future,” said Heck. “How fast that will come will be difficult to predict. He has all the physical and mental tools that you’d look for. And he loves football. That’s an indispensable quality. He loves football, he loves to compete and he’s an extremely physical person. These things jump out at you when you watch tape of him.
“Now... how fast can he learn our system, learn our techniques — really ‘quiet things down’ in there at that guard position? We’ll see. But he’s certainly off to a good start and working very hard at it.”
Heck said that all of the players he’s coaching share Smith’s love for football — and that’s why he expects that in whatever form the line eventually takes, it will be ready to play in Week 1.
“Here’s the beautiful thing about all of these guys: they love football — and they’re all top-notch people [and] hard workers. They come in every day, excited to work at their craft and come together — and they like each other — so they’re having fun out there.
“To expect that these guys will be able to come together and gel by early September? Absolutely. That would be my expectation.”