Chiefs aim to have offensive line set for third preseason game

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The offensive linemen who start for the Kansas City Chiefs in the team’s third preseason game Aug. 28 will likely be the ones who start the regular season opener, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said Tuesday.

Aug. 18, 2015; St. Joseph, MO; The Chiefs offensive line and quarterback Alex Smith approach the line of scrimmage during a drill at training camp at Missouri Western State University. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Aug. 18, 2015; St. Joseph, MO; The Chiefs offensive line and quarterback Alex Smith approach the line of scrimmage during a drill at training camp at Missouri Western State University. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

“By the time you get to your third week where your starters are playing a lot, three quarters, you should have that ironed out, and going into that last week, where you play all your backups, those starters now get ready for that opening day,” Pederson said. “You still got a couple of days here to really get that thing ironed out, and then from there it’s, ‘Hey, it’s all hands on deck,’ give the starters all the reps they can handle and you get ready for that first week.”

Pederson made the deadline a flexible one, but maintained that a decision should be made around that time.

“I would say this, that not everything would be set in stone after your third week,” Pederson said. “There’s going to be injury that happens, there’s going to be some rotation there, but you’d like to have that ironed out pretty soon.”

Depth on the offensive line made for questions about which players would start even before right tackle Jeff Allen suffered a knee injury early in the preseason opener and left tackle Eric Fisher went down with a high-ankle sprain Monday.

A high-ankle sprain is generally regarded as the worst type of ankle sprain, but head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder expressed some optimism about Fisher’s condition Tuesday.

“He did a lot of work today, as you saw down there, doing some reconditioning, so that’s a positive that he’s up on his feet,” Burkholder said. “He’s working. He’s worked with our group over the last two years, so he’s comfortable, we’re comfortable with him, and we think he’s going to do very, very well with this left high ankle sprain.”

Given the injuries to Allen and Fisher, of course, both tackle spots are at least temporarily up for grabs. Filling in for Allen and Fisher could be Jarrod Pughsley and Donald Stephenson, both of whom can play on either side.

Another position in question is center, where the Chiefs started rookie Mitch Morse in the first preseason game. The young player is far from a lock to win the position, however. Third-year pro Eric Kush is also in the mix. Pederson acknowledged Morse had highs and lows Saturday, but he agreed it would be reasonable to say Morse could be ready to start by the regular season opener.

“Here’s why I say that – we’ve got so much football in,” Pederson said. “We’re changing plays every day. We’re still installing plays in our meetings at night, so we haven’t even game planned anybody yet. So when you game plan and you hone everything in to a specific task, now you focus on that task, and so yes, he will be ready. He’ll be fine.”

The Chiefs will have Ben Grubbs start at left guard, but right guard is still up in the air. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Zach Fulton and Paul Fanaika are among those battling for the starting job. Duvernay-Tardif and Fulton are regarded as the front-runners, and Fulton started Saturday’s game. The Chiefs signed Fanaika to a three-year deal in March, however, and he could make a late push to overtake the other two.

Pederson would not give any hint about which players he believes will be the five starting when the regular season begins, but he said he feels good about the direction the group is headed.

“Obviously there’s some combinations now, there’s some injury and things like that, but when those pieces are together and when those guys get all the reps, there’s some good up there, and you’re seeing that,” Pederson said. “As we go each day, you’re seeing that offensive line sort of come together and gel and do a nice job.”

Offensive line coach Andy Heck had a similarly positive take on the bunch.

“This is a very deep group, a lot of good, hungry, talented guys,” Heck said. “I’m very pleased how they’re all coming out to work and better themselves individually, not just to battle to be one of those five guys – be one of the seven up on game day, be one of the nine or 10 or eight or how many we keep that’s on this football team. It’s a process we’re still going through, and the guys are doing a real nice job with it.”

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Special contributor Ashley Dunkak currently serves as a correspondent for CBS Local Sports and The Associated Press. She previously worked for CBS Detroit.

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