KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Donald Stephenson has the same approach to the 2015 offseason season when compared to last year.
The Chiefs offensive tackle was projected as the starting right tackle at this time in 2014. Fast forward a year, and now Stephenson finds himself starting over on the opposite end.
“I’m coming in to compete for a job and my mindset is to win the job,” Stephenson said during a Tuesday conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “(Chiefs general manager John) Dorsey wants competition and that brings out the best of us. I’m on board with it and you have to work for what you want.”
Stephenson’s road to the present wasn’t easy after he served a four-game suspension to start the 2014 season for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
Kansas City went with guard/offensive tackle Jeff Allen to open the season in Stephenson’s place, but Allen suffered a season-ending right elbow/biceps injury in the first game.
The Chiefs then turned to veteran offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who signed a one-year deal before training camp, and he kept Stephenson out of the starting lineup the rest of the season.
Stephenson, who enters the final year of his contract, played on 30 offensive snaps last year (3 percent of the total offensive line snaps), according to snap count figures at FootballOutsiders.com.
“What happened was other guys got in and did their job,” coach Andy Reid said on April 20, the first day of the Chiefs’ offseason workout program. “One thing you learn in this league, especially when you have Dorsey bringing in players like he brings in, he’s going to try to create as much competition as possible. So if you allow another man into your spot, there is no guarantee, in particular if that guy does well. You want to make sure you capture that position when given the opportunity and there’s a lot that goes into that.”
Consider the message received loud and clear, as Stephenson dedicated himself to offseason training and not dwelling on what happened in 2014.
“I’m really just focused on this year coming up,” he said. “That’s all in the past. I have an opportunity to compete for a position to start this year and that’s all I’m working towards.”
Stephenson spent the past months training in Houston with fellow former Oklahoma Sooners and current Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
This was different from the 2014 offseason when he worked out with Allen, but Stephenson couldn’t turn down an opportunity to train with a former college teammate.
“It was mostly because I look up to Trent Williams, he’s a great player,” Stephenson said. “I wanted to figure out what he was doing during the offseason to get him where he is today. He’s a Pro Bowler. I went down there and got with those guys and I felt at home being around some old teammates. I think it’s going to work out well for me.”
Stephenson said the workouts incorporated boxing, cycling, running and weight training, and he is happy with the results.
The 6-foot-6 Stephenson said he currently weighs 320 pounds, which represents an increase from the 312 pounds the Chiefs officially list.
“I’m in good shape,” he said, “and I’m glad to be back.”
The fourth-year pro’s commitment to make an impact also impressed his head coach.
“I think he’s had a good offseason so far, to this point,” Reid said. “I think he’s in the right frame of mind. He wants to prove to people that he deserves to be a starter so we should have a little competition in there as we go. It should be healthy.”
Stephenson’s primary competition should be Allen, barring the Chiefs adding additional offensive tackles through the draft or free agency.
Position battles aren’t new to an NFL team, but this particular one has an interesting dynamic.
The Chiefs drafted Allen and Stephenson in 2012, they are friends and their respective lockers are within close proximity to each other.
Whatever happens shouldn’t affect their personal relationship.
“We are still going to be friends,” Stephenson said. “That’s not going to change anything. We just both know that we have to work our butts off to get on the field.”
The coming months should prove interesting at the right tackle position, but it’s a challenge Stephenson willingly accepts with the 2014 season behind him.
“I’m just going out and doing my best,” he said. “You only get an opportunity in this league and that’s all you can ask for. That’s what they’ve given me, so I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: