KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs have consistently mixed personnel groupings on the offensive line since the start of organized team activities.
That shouldn’t come as a revelation because coach Andy Reid said on the first day of OTAs he would do just that and has stayed true to his word.
But observers of Wednesday’s OTA practice could have easily been taken aback when second-year offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif took the field with the first-team unit at right guard.
Then again, it may have been a surprise to anyone except the coaching staff and Duvernay-Tardif, who said his mindset remains the same regardless if he is lining up with starters or backups.
“I try to stay relaxed and to just focus on the little detail to play the same way when I’m with the twos or threes,” Duvernay-Tardif said of his first-team snaps. “It’s still the same position, the same job. It just that it needs to be perfect every time, so I’m just working on detail and trying to be the best at my position.”
Duvernay-Tardif didn’t have an easy path to the NFL considering he played college football at McGill University in Canada.
The 6-foot-5 Duvernay-Tardif, who said he currently weighs 318 pounds, played offensive tackle in college after converting from the defensive line.
He was considered raw coming out of college, but the Chiefs thought highly enough to select him as the second of two sixth-round draft picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Duvernay-Tardif moved from tackle to guard during rookie minicamp, and then made it through roster cuts after training camp to land on the 53-man roster as one of 10 offensive linemen on the Week 1 roster.
While he was inactive for all 16 regular-season games, the time on the active roster allowed him to absorb the playbook and gain the coaching staff’s trust.
That confidence culminated in Duvernay-Tardif experiencing first-team practice repetitions late in the season.
“The last two weeks, I had a couple of reps with the first team and it was a first for me because I never had a chance with the first team,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “Last year, Zach (Fulton) was a bit banged up, so the first time – a Wednesday – I had to go in as a right guard and I was pretty excited about that.”
The trust from the coaching staff has carried over from the 2014 season through the offseason and into OTAs.
“I think he’s progressed quite a bit from his rookie year,” coach Andy Reid said. “A lot of his is the understanding of the game and playing at this level. Very strong and athletic, and he’s smart. It’s just a matter with him – like I mentioned back then last year – his reps. Every rep he gets better with. He’s a good football player.”
What a difference a year makes, indeed.
Duvernay-Tardif’s transition from a small school in Canada to the NFL certainly brought challenges, including learning Reid’s version of the West Coast offense.
But the native of Montreal, Quebec, is now comfortable with what is expected of him while understanding there is still room to grow.
“I would say I have a good knowledge base,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I think I’m in the right direction. I know I have to work hard, but at this time of the year – of course, you try to be perfect all the time – it’s the time of the year to knock the rust off a bit. I mean, I’m working on that and I try to be perfect every time even though it’s a bit not realistic.”
The Chiefs under the current regime covet versatility, especially on the offensive line.
And offensive line coach Andy Heck stressed the importance of having flexible players during his media session with reporters on June 3.
“I think in today’s game when we’re only dressing seven on game day, everybody should know how to play more than one position,” Heck said. “If I’m a tackle, I need to know how to play both sides. If I’m a guard, I have to know how to play center and tackle and so forth. The more you can do, we always say. In a game, we might (say), ‘Oh, this guy goes down, you go to right guard, you jump over to right tackle.’ We have to be prepared to do that and be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
Consider the message received loud and clear for Duvernay-Tardif, who has shown a willingness to play the left and right side of the offensive line.
More importantly, he plays the positions with confidence.
“I think I’m starting to be comfortable on both sides now,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I think that’s going to be a huge part if I am able to play on both sides.”
Where Duvernay-Tardif eventually lines up remains to be seen without the benefit of training camp, but he will ensure to prepare and study accordingly.
And those are two areas the Chiefs arguably never have to worry about.
What makes the former McGill star’s growth as a player unique surrounds what he endured the past year outside of a Chiefs uniform.
Duvernay-Tardif, who was a third-year medical student when the Chiefs drafted him, could give a lesson on multitasking when considering he is now four months shy of finishing requirements to become a medical doctor.
Eventually becoming Dr. Duvernay-Tardif will accomplish a life goal, of course, but there remains unfinished business on the football field and he has his medical school’s support to pursue it.
“The Faculty of Medicine back at McGill is very flexible with me,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “The dean told me when I’m there (Kansas City), focus only on football and that’s what I want to do. I mean, I want to compete for a job here, so I cannot be distracted by the study of medicine. Coach Reid says that every time, eliminate distractions. That’s what I’m trying to do.”