Parker Ehinger’s return adds depth to Chiefs offensive line

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs left guard Parker Ehinger returned to practice for the first this season Monday, adding more depth to the team’s offensive line for offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Parker Ehinger participated in drills during the 2016 season at the team’s training complex in Kansas City, Mo. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

“He’s done a great job at rehabbing and trying to get back to where he needs to be,” Nagy said. “Anytime you can get quality players back to help you with the depth it’s huge.”

Ehinger provided a spark in the run game as a rookie last season. The fourth-round pick from Cincinnati jumped into the starting lineup during offseason workouts.

The Chiefs averaged more yards per carry with Ehinger in the lineup than any other of the team’s offensive linemen. The team averaged 4.39 yards per carry with Ehinger at left guard compared to 4.01 yards without him. The team’s running backs score just five rushing touchdowns last season, three of them with Ehinger on the line.

His rookie season came to a sudden end in week eight against the Indianapolis Colts. Ehinger torn the anterior cruciate ligament, the medial collateral ligament and the meniscus in his right knee, sending him to injured reserve.

“I knew it was going to be a journey when it first happened,” Ehinger said. “I knew it was going to be a long haul back but I was ready for it and just embraced the process and was ready to get after it.”

Zach Fulton stepped in at left guard in Ehinger’s absence during the second half of last season. The team then converted tackle Bryan Witzmann to the position during offseason workouts. He continued that role through training camp while Ehinger served time on the physically unable to perform list. Witzmann started at left guard in Saturday’s preseason game against Cincinnati.

The Chiefs appear ready to ride with Witzmann filling in until Ehinger fully returns to the lineup. That leaves Fulton in the utility role as the primary backup at center as well as both guard positions. Fulton can play swing tackle as well in an emergency.

Swing tackle Jah Reid and interior lineman Mike Person continue in the mix for an eighth lineman spot on the 53-man roster.

The long road back for Ehinger included ups and downs along the way, but the 24-year-old believes the last 10 months have challenged him in a positive way.

“I think I came out a lot mentally stronger and mentally tougher,” Ehinger said.

When the second-year lineman returns to full duty remains up in the air. Ehinger hopes he’s back in the lineup during the first few weeks of the season.

“Right now I’m just trusting what the doctors tell me and the trainers and staff and what my body’s telling me,” Ehinger said. “Hopefully it’s going to in the foreseeable future that I’m be back out there.”

Nagy said head coach Andy Reid and head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder will make the final determination.

“He’s working his tail off, and whenever they give the go we’re ready,” Nagy said.

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.

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