Improved offensive line performance key to Chiefs’ success

Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher (72) and guard Mike McGlynn (75) block Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware (94) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sept. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher (72) and guard Mike McGlynn (75) block Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware (94) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sept. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The offensive line will be one of the top stories headed into training camp given the overall struggles in 2014.

Quarterbacks Alex Smith (45) and Chase Daniel (4) were sacked a combined 49 times last year, and the left side of the line was a problem where tackle Eric Fisher (8) and left guards Mike McGlynn (7) and Jeff Linkenbach (2 ½) combined to allow 17 ½ sacks.

The Chiefs focused on upgrading the unit during the offseason and currently have 15 linemen on the roster.

Centers Garrett Frye and Daniel Munyer, guards Marcus Reed and Jarrod Pughsley, and tackle Tavon Rooks didn’t have enough contact in spring practices to determine their ability at this moment, but are worth monitoring in camp.

Here are the remaining 10 offensive linemen to keep an eye on:

1. Left tackle Eric Fisher: The former first overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft enters a crucial season for his career. Fisher showed improvement as the 2014 season progressed with his technique, strength and identifying his assignment.

The key for the Central Michigan alumnus is taking the next step in strength training for his punch. Fisher was unable to make those strides last offseason as he was limited in workouts while recovering from shoulder surgery. He improved his technique, but the punch still needed authority to reach the level he is capable of.

Fisher incorporated boxing into his 2015 offseason workouts as a way to improve his punch.

2. Left guard Ben Grubbs: The ninth-year guard, who joined the Chiefs in March via trade with the New Orleans Saints, provides an immediate impact and a tremendous presence for Eric Fisher and center Eric Kush. He will help them as a seasoned veteran who understands how to properly identify and pass-off stunts.

Grubbs rarely gets beaten inside on pass protection and has a very good kick step. The former Auburn Tiger comes to the Chiefs with the ideal mentality of an offensive lineman, and that is to take the fight to your defender.

Grubbs is athletic for his size in space and pulls in a fluid manner. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is always head hunting for a defender to block when uncovered and can stonewall a rusher with his punch.

3. Center Eric Kush: The third-year center has an opportunity to win the starting position with the departure of Rodney Hudson.

Kush came into the 2014 training camp noticeably stronger than his rookie campaign, and has continued to grow leading to 2015. The former sixth-round pick took command of the huddle during the spring practices and was very verbal. Kush showed tremendous improvement in his reach, combo and pull blocks to seal the play side quickly and get to the second level. The Chiefs will see an upgrade in athletic ability and quickness with Kush on the field.

4. Guard/tackle Jeff Allen: The fourth-year guard, who has appeared in 32 games with 28 starts in a Chiefs uniform, is entering his contract year and has the opportunity to cash in.

Allen saw time on the right side of the line during OTAs and minicamp and it seems to suit him well. The former Fighting Illini looked comfortable on the right side last year before a right biceps/elbow injury suffered in the first regular season game sidelined him for the season.

Allen provides the line with veteran versatility and continued to show good technique during spring practices. He also appeared to have lost some weight and looked a little more flexible in his bend.

Allen is the front runner at right guard and could fill in at another position if an injury were to arise during the season.

5. Tackle Donald Stephenson: The fourth-year tackle had a rough season in 2014 after being suspended the first four games of the season, forcing the Chiefs to alter the offensive line. The coaching staff elected not to make any changes to their line once Stephenson returned and he spent a majority of the season on the sidelines.

Stephenson, who worked mostly at right tackle during OTAs and minicamp, showed the right attitude during his 2013 season where he had seven starts (four at left tackle, three at right tackle). He wanted to finish blocks with authority and punish the defender. If he had the chance to throw a player like a rag doll, he was going to do it then deliver additional blows to finish off the block.

The former Oklahoma Sooner has a good athletic ability and understands how to pick up stunts. This is also a contract year for Stephenson and an opportunity to win back the starting right tackle position.

6. Center/guard Mitch Morse: The second-round pick of the 2015 NFL Draft saw time at center and guard during spring practices. Morse looks more comfortable at the guard position and is stronger than expected. The former Missouri Tiger will need time just like most rookies to get his strength up to an NFL level and learn some of the finer points in pad level, punch and assignments. There is athletic ability there to work with in his pull and his kick step.

7. Guard Zach Fulton: The second-year pro started all 16 games at right guard last season, but faces heavy competition for the starting job. The former Vol started out strong during the 2014 training camp, showing a good punch and bend. As the season wore on, Fulton began to lack the same pop and looked stiff. The biggest challenge for Fulton during the offseason was to improve his flexibility. Fulton, who also worked at center during OTAs, provides valuable versatility and depth heading into the season.

8. Guard Paul Fanaika: The free-agent addition saw time on both sides of the line during spring practices. Fanaika had the strongest punch of any lineman on the team in drills, but looked a little stiff in his kick step and pulls. The Arizona State alumnus provides depth, but will need to have a strong training camp to likely start.

9. Tackle Derek Sherrod: The former first-round pick of the 2011 NFL Draft with the Green Bay Packers looked comfortable at the tackle position. He did not look stiff or overwhelmed with the rushers. Sherrod will be able to bring solid depth at the tackle position.

10. Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: The second-year pro needed time to adjust to the NFL game after being drafted out of McGill University in Canada. Duverynay-Tardif has a high ceiling in athletic ability but needed the strength and technique work to compete. He would grab instead of punch his defender, as well as have too wide of a base when setting up in his pass protection allowing defenders to get under his shoulder pads and put him on skates. Training camp will show how far Duvernay-Tardif has come when the pads are on.

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Nick Jacobs is a contributing writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @Jacobs71.

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