KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs’ offensive line appears on track for a transition period when the league’s calendar year begins March 9.
Guard/tackle Jeff Allen and tackle Donald Stephenson are set to become unrestricted free agents, signaling the Chiefs could seek replacements in free agency or the draft if Allen and Stephenson aren’t re-signed.
Then again, the Chiefs could elect to look from within.
From Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to Jarrod Pughsley the past two seasons, the Chiefs under general manager John Dorsey have grown offensive linemen.
And the Chiefs’ willingness to develop players wasn’t overlooked by offensive tackle Laurence Gibson, who spent the 2015 season on the practice squad.
“I kind of noticed that when I first got here,” Gibson said. “They have this system and it makes you want to make yourself better and it makes you want to make your teammates better. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been like to the intensity that it is here.”
Duvernay-Tardif, a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, spent his rookie season on the active roster, but didn’t experience live action while he adjusted from playing college football in Canada.
Pughsley and even center Daniel Munyer spent time on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster.
The Chiefs general manager took a moment during the recently-concluded NFL Scouting Combine to point out the importance of developing offensive linemen.
“What’s good about having those guys on the practice squad is that continuity of the group,” Dorsey said. “And the offensive line, to me, is important when you have that whole group mentality. They feel part of it and they feel if somebody goes down and they’re asked to do their job, they’ll step up and they’ll do their job. That’s the mindset that the coaches have established.”
The Chiefs’ approach applies to the 6-6, 315-pound Gibson, who entered the league out of Virginia Tech as a seventh-round pick with the Dallas Cowboys in the 2015 NFL Draft before being waived on Sept. 5.
Gibson, who graduated from college with two degrees in sociology and psychology, signed with Kansas City two days later and he was familiar with the Chiefs based on a formal interview at the 2015 Combine.
The Chiefs also knew what they were getting.
“Athleticism,” Dorsey said. “You see a guy who’s got, first, the physical traits, the athleticism, and then there’s something that you can see you want to build on that, so you know he’s going to need a redshirt year to get bigger, faster, stronger. So then you take him into Year Two and see what happens.”
With Gibson, the Chiefs have a player who possesses a 35 1/8-inch arm span, which is significant for an offensive tackle against edge rushers.
In comparison to the four players that played left and right tackle at various times for the Chiefs in 2015: Eric Fisher’s arm span measures 34 1/2; Jah Reid measures 34 3/8; Donald Stephenson measures 34 7/8; and Jeff Allen possess a 33 ½ arm span.
“It’s an amazing advantage because it really just buys you time,” Gibson said of having a long arm span. “The further away someone is from you, the more time you have to either react to what they’re doing or perform your own action. It definitely helps when you can keep someone from like being in your body. You are the one controlling the situation when that happens.”
But even with his obvious physical attributes, Gibson experienced an adjustment period with the Chiefs’ playbook.
Assistance, however, wasn’t far if he needed it.
“My teammates on the offensive line, there’s not a single one that wouldn’t help me if I had a question or if I was doing something wrong,” Gibson said. “They always had someone to look out for me, especially Pugs (Jarrod Pughsley).”
Gibson credits Pughsley for helping the transition and it doesn’t hurt the two players are next to each other in the locker room.
The Chiefs elevated Pughsley to the active 53-man roster in Week 14 the past season and he offered Gibson a model of what hard work while growing in the system will accomplish.
“Pugs looked out for me when I first got here, I would say a lot,” Gibson said. “And, of course, he shared his situation with me, so it’s like he’s an example it can be done.”
For his part, Pughsley said in a telephone interview he enjoyed watching Gibson grow throughout the 2015 regular season.
“He’s taking steps, leaps and bounds, since he got here and it makes me happy for him,” Pughsley said. “I would say even his maturity and that’s one thing that kind of made me happy for him, his ability to go out and do the extra work on his own.
“He’s one of those guys that would come out early, take a couple of steps on his own. Whenever we had downtime, he worked on his own stuff. I would say he got a lot better.”
Gibson also attributes his growth to other players and had takeaways from his rookie season to incorporate into offseason workouts.
“Jeff Allen helped me work on my hands,” Gibson said. “Justin Houston taught me how to treat the offseason training-wise.”
When it comes to Houston, Gibson said listening to the four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker on how to improve away from the football field proved an eye-opening experience.
Gibson said he often heard from others on how to tackle the offseason, but Houston helped shape his current approach, even before the regular season ended.
“My whole attitude towards football changed,” Gibson said. “I started training for next season towards the end of the current season because like in my situation, I was on the practice squad. And in my eyes, I got nine months until kickoff next year and I got to make something happen.”
Gibson, who signed a reserve/future contract a day after the Chiefs’ season ended in January, spent time in Blacksburg, Va., to train while armed with the experience of the 2015 campaign and advice from teammates.
He incorporated hypertrophy training, which induces muscle growth, along with speed and agility workouts before recently returning to Kansas City to continue training ahead of Phase I of the voluntary offseason workout program, which begins in late April.
While a spot on the 53-man roster isn’t guaranteed in 2016, Gibson took with him encouragement from the coaching staff to provide motivation with hopes of becoming part of the Chiefs’ future.
“Their message to me was I’ve been given an opportunity and it’s up to me what I do with it,” Gibson said. “I think the coaches are optimistic about working with me; I love working with them.”