Throughout the offseason — as the Kansas City Chiefs have rebuilt their offensive line — one of the key questions has been how willing head coach Andy Reid would be to start rookies in front of his superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Some observers — including myself — have believed that Reid would take no chances. We thought Reid would look at the early part of the team’s 2021 schedule — featuring games against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens (now with pass rusher Justin Houston), Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo Bills during the first five weeks — and decide to prioritize experience.
But listening to what Reid said after the team’s fourth full training camp practice at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph on Saturday, it’s pretty easy to wonder if we will turn out to have misjudged the incoming rookies.
“The young guys have done a nice job,” said the head coach. “They’ve stepped up, I thought. They’ve been working their tail off. It’s been a good exercise with very few mistakes. So you look at that now, that becomes important.”
Then Reid mentioned something that had escaped my notice until now: that while there are several rookies among the new offensive linemen, almost all of the defensive linemen they’re facing are veterans.
“The great part is that with the young linemen, the defensive line helps them out,” Reid noted. “Those veteran d-linemen help them out by talking to them on certain things. And the veteran offensive linemen help them out.”
Reid also had praise for (still) rookie Lucas Niang, who opted out of the 2020 season. After a year off, many presumed they wouldn't be in football shape. During Saturday’s practice — which veteran right tackle Mike Remmers missed after suffering back spasms — Niang ran with the first team.
“He’s in great shape right now,” said Reid. “He worked his tail off this offseason and came back early. He and Thuney were in there every day working. It’s showing out here. He’s doing a nice job so far.”
And Reid pointed out that he’s not opposed to starting first-year players — at least not on that basis alone.
“Listen, I’ve started a number of rookies in there,” he reminded reporters. “They’ve done a good job. Sure... you’d like to have experience. But again, I’ve had success with rookies, too. So it’s kind of individually based — how they step up and communicate — and how willing the veteran players are to share [their experiences] with them.”
According to Reid, that’s exactly what’s been happening.
“And then they’re fortunate,” added Reid, “to have Andy Heck — who played in the league for 14 years and been coaching forever — as their coach.”
Does all this absolutely, positively mean that the Chiefs will start three rookies — Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Niang — on the right side of the line this season? No. There’s still plenty of camp to go — and after all, the Chiefs haven’t even put on their pads yet. But after seeing Humphrey and Smith with the first team through the first four days of practice — and hearing Reid’s remarks on Saturday — we have to consider that it’s a real possibility.