ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Chiefs coach Andy Reid mixed and matched offensive linemen throughout organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in an attempt to find the best five players.
But the Chiefs may have found – or at least are on the way to identifying – the top group if the first three days of training camp are an indication.
Left tackle Eric Fisher, left guard Ben Grubbs, center Eric Kush, right guard Jeff Allen and right tackle Donald Stephenson have been mainstays with the first-team offense.
Reid, however, didn’t commit to the players when asked following Monday’s practice if it was safe to say the Chiefs have settled on the regular-season starters.
“It is for today,” Reid said. “There’s still competition everywhere.”
Kush echoed his head coach.
“Nothing is settled yet,” Kush said. “It’s Day One in pads of training camp, everybody has to keep working. Nothing is set whatsoever.”
While the Chiefs apparently aren’t ready to openly commit to a starting five, Fisher, Grubbs, Kush, Allen and Stephenson arguably offer the best look with a blend of veterans and familiarity with the offensive scheme.
The group also represents an upgrade from an offensive line that played a large role in allowing 49 sacks on the 2014 season, including allowing quarterback Alex Smith to be sacked a career-high 45 times.
Kansas City experienced a major overhaul on the offensive line during the offseason, losing center Rodney Hudson to the Oakland Raiders via free agency and not re-signing tackle Ryan Harris and guards Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach.
New additions include Grubbs, a two-time Pro Bowl selection acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, guard Paul Fanaika and the drafting of Mitch Morse, who can play guard and center.
The Chiefs also welcomed back Allen, who can play guard and tackle, and Stephenson appears committed to winning back the starting job after falling off the radar following a four-game suspension to start the 2014 season.
There are currently 15 offensive linemen in training camp: Fisher; Grubbs; Kush; Allen; Stephenson; Fanaika; Morse; guards Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Zach Fulton, Jarrod Pughsley and Marcus Reed; centers Daniel Munyer and Garrett Frye; and tackles Derek Sherrod and Tavon Rooks.
And many of the players have versatility to play different positions, such as Pughsley and Frye lining up at offensive tackle or Rooks playing the left side from his customary right tackle spot.
The interchangeable parts allow Reid the flexibility to have a hard look at the personnel groupings before coming to a final decision on the starting unit.
“We have three groups that are going,” Reid said. “It’s a little higher intensity than what you had in the offseason, so we set kind of different groups, ‘Hey, you go play. If you do good and the other guy doesn’t do good, you get moved up.’ It’s that simple.”
Clear and concise guidance, indeed.
The Chiefs would likely prefer to have a starting unit in place before preseason action kicks off on Aug. 15 in order to not take away valuable first-team repetitions before the start of the season.
Nevertheless, the players will be continue to battle for staring jobs or a roster spot.
“It is a competitive league,” Grubbs said. “That’s one of the things the coaches stress here – competition. I’m pretty sure there will be a rotation here and there. At the end of the day, I think when it’s all said and done, the five guys that are playing, by the time we get to the first game, there should be some kind of continuity and some type of flow there.”
But until that scenario eventually presents itself, the linemen know what needs to be accomplished in training camp.
“We’re just going to keep working and keep trying to bond as a whole unit,” Kush said, “and have a good time doing it.”