Chiefs mailbag: Offensive line, wide receiver provided major angst in 2014

There should be little doubt of the top two positions on offense offering the highest level of frustration from the recently concluded season.

The offensive line proved the weakest link on offense.

The left side, in particular, was a thorn at guard where Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach combined to allow a team-high 9 ½ sacks. Left tackle Eric Fisher allowed eight, which was the most allowed by an individual offensive lineman.

Ryan Harris and Donald Stephenson combined to allow nine sacks at right tackle, while rookie right guard Zach Fulton and center Rodney Hudson each allowed three.

The overall protection issues that saw starting quarterback Alex Smith go down 45 times, which marked a career-high times sacked in a single season for the 10th-year pro, can be linked to an unfortunate offseason incident that produced a disastrous domino effect.

That specific event surrounds the four-game suspension handed down to Stephenson by the NFL on Aug. 22 for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances.

The Chiefs moved left guard Jeff Allen to fill in for Stephenson, but Allen suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Week 1.

Kansas City never recovered from Allen’s injury because he would have in all likelihood returned to left guard after Stephenson’s suspension.

Without Allen, the Chiefs were basically forced to stick with McGlynn at left guard and Harris at right tackle. McGlynn signed with the Chiefs in late August, while Harris signed shortly before the start of training camp.

The Chiefs will experience changes along the front five during the offseason.

Center Rodney Hudson, Linkenbach, McGlynn and Harris are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the league’s calendar year begins on March 10.

The Chiefs, of course, can address holes through free agency and the draft. And it would be absolutely stunning if the team doesn’t upgrade when considering the protection issues of the past two seasons where quarterbacks have been sacked a combined 90 times during that span (Smith – 84, Chase Daniel – 6).

Of the four players set for free agency, Hudson is the player the Chiefs should bring back. But second-year pro Eric Kush is on the roster should Hudson’s asking price prove too much.

The Chiefs could have options on the current roster outside of free agency and the draft.

Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, one of two 2014 sixth-round picks, and Ricky Henry are intriguing.

Duvernay-Tardif offers a 6-5, 321-pound frame, while Henry had a good training camp – even seeing time with the first-team offense during preseason action – before eventually signing with the Chiefs practice squad.

The bottom line answer to the question is the Chiefs must develop a cohesive unit to fix the issues of not just the 2014 season, but the past two seasons.

Left guard should be in good hands with Allen returning healthy, but finding a right tackle either through the draft or free agency is critical if Stephenson isn’t the answer.

Securing quality depth at each position remains a priority given what the Chiefs just went through.

That is the million-dollar question, but there isn’t a definitive answer for arguably one of the more head-scratching situations of the 2014 season.

Stephenson, who started seven games in 2013 (three at right tackle, four at left tackle), projected as the starting right tackle entering training camp before the league announced his suspension.

The Chiefs during the season indicated the team didn’t want to disrupt chemistry when Stephenson returned and the coaching staff felt good about Ryan Harris’ play.

“Right now Ryan (Harris) is doing a nice job in there and we have some good continuity going in there on the offensive line,” offensive line coach Andy Heck said on Oct. 8. “Getting Donald back in the mix, we’ll just see how it goes.”

Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson had the same stance a little more than a month later when asked why Stephenson wasn’t getting playing time outside of special teams or an extra lineman.

“It was a situation obviously with the suspension four games at the start of the year and moving Ryan Harris out there to tackle,” Pederson told reporters on Nov. 13, “and Ryan’s done a good job. He’s done well and I guess at this stage in the season you don’t want to disrupt that chemistry a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star and I asked general manager John Dorsey specific questions on Stephenson during the general manager’s media session with Chiefs beat writers a day after the regular-season finale.

This is verbatim of my question: “John, going back to the offensive line. When you look at a guy like Donald Stephenson, he’s kind of like fallen off the radar this season. What kind of plans do you potentially see for him in 2015.”

“I think with Donald, with this coaching staff, what they’re going to do they’re going to put him in as positive light as they can,” Dorsey responded. “He has a big challenge this year and I think, knowing Donald, he’ll step up to that challenge and accept that challenge. And what that does is that helps everybody in the organization as well as the kid.”

That isn’t exactly a direct answer to my question, which prompted an immediate follow-up from Paylor as to how Dorsey would characterize Stephenson’s season.

“We all know we started slow, and then he had to regain the trust of all the coaching staff for the things that he did,” Dorsey said. “You go along through the season, you have to regain that trust with those coaches in this thing and he has to prove to them.”

And then this final exchange before the subject changed.

Paylor: “It sounds like you are tentatively figuring him in the 2015 plans. Is that right?”

Dorsey: “I don’t know, this is still 2014. This is Dec. 29, 2014, 25 hours removed (from the regular season finale).”

Paylor: “So yes, but no?”

Dorsey: “I still have two players upstairs I have to talk to.”

It absolutely wouldn’t surprise given the amount of draft picks, potentially as many as 11, the Chiefs will have based on compensatory picks. And at the very least expect the Chiefs to address the position through free agency and the NFL Draft.

It is far from a secret a Chiefs wide receiver failed to score a touchdown in 2014, and the wide receiver corps as a whole didn’t produce an 800-yard receiver.

The Chiefs passing game ranked a dismal 29th in the league (198.9 yards per game) and was one of four teams in the NFL to not average 200 or more yards passing per game.

The other three teams worse than the Chiefs in the passing game were the San Francisco 49ers (30th), Jacksonville Jaguars (31st) and New York Jets (32nd).

“I think that the stats speak for themselves and we’re going to have to do some work there,” general manager John Dorsey said of the team’s wide receiver corps during his media session with Chiefs beat writers the day after the season finale.

Whether wide receiver Donnie Avery remains in the team’s future plans remains to be seen when considering he was a healthy inactive for the final three games.

The Chiefs also must figure a way to make Dwayne Bowe’s massive contract work within the salary cap. Bowe is due a base salary of $10.75 million in 2015, a tremendous amount for a player who hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2010.

Jason Avant is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March, while Junior Hemingway and Frankie Hammond Jr. are exclusive rights free agents. A.J. Jenkins, who enters the final year of his contract, landed on injured reserve in Week 13 with a shoulder injury.

The bright spot of the Chiefs wide receiver corps to offer encouragement for the future came from Albert Wilson. The undrafted rookie out of Georgia State took over at split end from Avery in Week 14 and totaled 12 catches for 209 yards on 24 targets the final four games.

The likes of Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant headline the 2015 class of unrestricted free-agent wide receivers, but keep it realistic.

Two players jumping out immediately that fit the criteria of “good match and price” are Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb given the obvious ties.

Then-Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid drafted Maclin in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Maclin is familiar not just with Reid, but numerous members of the current Chiefs coaching staff, notably assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.

Chiefs general manager John Dorsey previously served as the Green Bay Packers director of college scouting (2000-11) and then director of football operations (2012) when the Packers drafted Cobb in 2011.

The 5-10, 192-pound Cobb would contribute on offense and as a returner on special teams, but the Chiefs already have a player playing a similar role with the 5-8, 176-pound De’Anthony Thomas.

Maclin, who played collegiately at Missouri and hails from Chesterfield, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, makes the most sense because the Chiefs need a bona fide every-down wide receiver to provide a much-needed upgrade to the current corps.

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Have a Chiefs-related question? Tweet them to @HerbieTeope or hashtag #ChiefsDigest. But note only my Twitter followers will get questions featured here.

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