KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It would’ve been easy to take a break from football following the end of the 2013 regular season before reporting for the offseason workout program.
Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson (79) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
But maintaining the status quo wasn’t an option for a pair of third-year Chiefs offensive linemen.
Left guard Jeff Allen and right tackle Donald Stephenson chose the path to self-improvement by spending late March into early April at the LeCharles Bentley O-Line Performance training center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“He has a proven record,” Stephenson said of Bentley. “The guys that went there came out and made a wonderful transformation, guys like Geoff Schwartz and other guys. We got recommended to go there. Right now I’m already feeling the benefits.”
Bentley, a former two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, has trained Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford, San Francisco guard Alex Boone, Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson and ex-Chiefs, current New York Giants guard Geoff Schwartz, among others.
The training academy is “designed solely around the needs of offensive linemen,” according to its website, www.olineperformance.com. Programs and training are structured to fit the individual, focusing on strength and conditioning, film evaluation and proper diet.
“It was intense,” Allen said. “We all pushed one another, got some good work in and got better.”
Bentley’s academy offers another benefit during an offseason period where contact between players and the coaching staff is strictly regulated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Players participating in workouts receive qualified mentoring from a former NFL player who understands how to excel, an aspect not lost on Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“LeCharles does a good job of that,” Reid said. “He’s been playing in the league for a long time and he knows what it takes to play in the National Football League. So whatever we can’t do in the offseason from a coaching standpoint, these guys can go to these different places. And as long as they are in good hands, they can learn something and get better at their profession.”
Reid was also impressed that his players came out of their respective pockets to cover expenses in an effort to augment development.
“That says a lot about that person,” Reid said. “He’s invested in himself, that’s what he’s doing. Everyone that comes back can make you a better football team.”
The decision for Allen and Stephenson to travel to Arizona came with encouragement from Schwartz, who had arguably one of the best seasons of his career before signing a free-agent deal with the Giants in March.
“I heard so much about it from Geoff Schwartz the previous year,” Allen said. “I decided to give it a try.”
Stephenson, who said he found out at the end of the 2013 season he would start at right tackle, echoed Allen.
“He pushed me and Jeff really hard,” Stephenson said of Schwartz. “He said he liked the potential in us and he wanted to see us grow, so he recommended us.”
Allen and Stephenson had plenty of traditional takeaways from Arizona, each with a different point of view as they’ve applied them to the voluntary organized team activities (OTAs).
November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs guard Jeff Allen (71) blocks against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
“The weight room aspect was great,” Allen said. “We got a lot of good work in and I got stronger. But the biggest thing I took from it was the nutrition side of it – the diet – working on eating the right things just to stay healthy.”
Stephenson said he has a better understanding of the mental aspect and improved strength.
“I feel like a smarter player,” he said. “I won’t know how much stronger I really am until we put on pads. As far as knowing the offense, I’m miles ahead of where I was last year.”
Of course, not all the workouts in Arizona proved traditional.
“We pushed his (Bentley’s) car up a hill,” Stephenson recalled, “so I guess that was something different. We ran out of the weight room, he put his car in neutral, we had to push his big Excursion up the hill.”
Stephenson said the vehicle pushing wasn’t done together. Instead, he and Allen took turns pushing.
When asked about that experience, Allen grimaced before bursting in laughter.
“We got some truck pushes in and that was probably our worst day,” Allen said with a smile. “But I’m trying to forget about it.”
Meanwhile, the Chiefs offensive line is undergoing changes with the free-agent departures of Schwartz, guard Jon Asamoah and left tackle Branden Albert, whose position is now taken by 2013 first-round pick Eric Fisher.
Allen returns as the starting left guard, while Stephenson, last season’s swing tackle (four starts at left tackle, three at right tackle), has worked next to Allen with Fisher recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Being alongside Stephenson during OTAs has allowed the good friends to apply what they learned in Arizona and become vocal leaders on the offensive line.
“We came in together,” Allen said. “We were roommates when we first got here. Just being close friends helped with the communication and we try to get that across the board with all five offensive linemen because we’re one group. If one guy makes a mistake, more than likely it’s not going to be a good play. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and we all try to be the strength.”