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Longtime right tackle Darian Kinnard says he’ll play wherever he’s needed

In college, Kansas City’s fifth-round pick settled into one spot — but in the NFL, he’s willing to be more versatile.

NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

For most of the offseason, we didn’t have many questions about the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line. We knew who four of the five starters would be — and the fifth spot at right tackle seemed to be a pretty straightforward competition between veteran Andrew Wylie and rookie Darian Kinnard; Lucas Niang would also be in the mix if he hadn’t been placed on the Active/PUP list on Saturday.

However, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.’s potential holdout from training camp has created a little more chaos among the group than we expected. We’ve laid out all the in-house options who could fill in for Brown. Of that group, Kinnard is the player about whom we know the least.

What we do know, however, is that he settled in at right tackle for three seasons as a starter at Kentucky. But it is worth noting that as a true freshman, he played 143 snaps at left tackle.

We also know that his new offensive line coach Andy Heck values versatility in his linemen — something that Kinnard has already learned.

“I just have to be prepared to play any position,” he told reporters after Sunday’s rookies-and-quarterbacks practice session at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. “Yeah, I got reps today at right, but who knows? I could come in here tomorrow — since we don’t have a left tackle right now — and get in some left. So I’m just out here working at whatever position he wants me at — trying to lock in and get ready.”

But Kinnard doesn’t know if that means there is an opportunity for him to become the starting left tackle position by Week 1.

“Who knows?” he said. “Right now, I’m playing right... Coach Heck put in my head to get reps at either [position]. I’m not going to be very valuable if I’m only playing one position, so I’m going to do my best. If he wants to have [the] confidence to come up to me at the end of the day and say, ‘Play guard,’ I’ll play guard.”

Kinnard being considered as a guard isn’t foreign to him. During the draft process, many draft experts thought of him as an NFL guard instead of a tackle. We can infer that this projection was seen as a positive by a Kansas City coaching staff that consistently utilizes versatile offensive linemen.

Kinnard understands he’ll need to develop a big-picture perspective of the Chiefs’ scheme.

“The biggest thing right now for me is just learning the whole offense,” Kinnard acknowledged. “If you don’t know what you’re doing regardless of what position you’re at, you’re not going to be any help. So my biggest thing is just understanding what tackles do and what guards do — [and] try to do my best to make sure I’m mentally prepared when we go out there and are full speed with everybody.”

As easy as Madden can make it look, switching from one tackle position to another is a difficult task. It’s even harder to do when you’re just beginning to learn how to be an NFL offensive lineman — but Kinnard is aware of that challenge.

“Everything’s more fine-detailed, fine-tuned at this level,” he pointed out. “I’ve been hammering right tackle the last four years at college, then coming here. Now when I switch, I have to lock in even more to what I’m doing. How far I’m stepping, where I’m putting my hands — the biggest thing is steps one, two and three on that left side.

“It’s a big difference. You feel it. It feels kind of awkward — kind of goofy — at first, but it’s just about getting the reps in.”

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

With Brown’s potential holdout — and both Niang and Prince Tega Wanogho on PUP to start camp — reps should be plentiful. So far, Kinnard hasn’t felt that many are being wasted.

“It’s going to prepare me a lot,” he said of his offseason experience so far. “Coach Heck really likes to drill it, drill it fast, and get as many reps as possible — because the more reps you get, the more comfortable you feel; the more confident you get when you’re out there to make the right snap decisions. While we’re out here, we’re learning right now. I think by the season’s start, we’ll be pretty confident in what we do.”

If a powerful player like Kinnard can get comfortable with what he’s being asked to do, it could mean trouble for opposing defensive lines already dealing with Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith.

Until then, he’ll be mentally absorbing the entire offense — readying himself to fill in at any opening along the line.