In 2010 the Chiefs led the league in rushing, mostly because of a super talented Jamal Charles, but give the Chiefs O-Line a lot of credit. After a miserable year in 2009, allowing 42 sacks, the Chiefs big guys improved greatly in 2010 by allowing only 26 sacks. With the addition of Ryan Lilja and the return of veteran Casey Weigman, the line was again strong and was a big reason the Chiefs won the AFC West.
All of the contributing members should be back this season with Weigman indicating that he will return at 38 if offered a contract by the Chiefs. I think the Casey is one of the veteran guys who probably benefited from the lock-out by keeping healthy and getting the extra rest. When Weigman left for two years his departure was felt. For the last 9 seasons, all but two with KC, he has started all 16 games. Being a center in the NFL means he is in the trenches every snap and to stay healthy for that long at his position to me is more impressive then Cal Ripken Jr’s iron man streak. Hopefully the Chiefs agree and bring Casey back for one more season.
Speaking of long tenures on the Chiefs O-Line, Brian Waters is the most experienced Chief on the roster having played more games than anybody on the current team. Waters has been the perfect poster boy for how to be a good guy. In 2009 he won the Walter Payton man of the year award for his efforts off the field with his foundation. He has been a staple in the community for years. Even though Waters philanthropic efforts are outstanding, he may be even better at playing football.
For a guy who went undrafted out of North Texas, Waters has accomplished more in his career then he probably thought possible. He is a four time pro-bowler and 2 time All-Pro. Since 2002, he has started 16 games in all but two seasons, where he started 14 and 15 games. Waters is the only offensive lineman to ever win the AFC or NFC offensive player of the week award after an 8 TD rushing performance against Atlanta that was highlighted by pancake after pancake block from Waters.
I felt like I had to write all that good stuff about Waters before my next few sentences. He has been dominant for many years at his interior lineman spot, but last season after watching him closely, I felt I saw a decline in his performance. Even with a slight dip, he is still better than a lot of guards starting in this league, but another year and that might not be the case anymore. Waters has been very vocal and present during these negotiations and is still respected by his peers as one of the best. That being said, the way Pioli operates, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Jon Asamoah start more games in 2011 for the Chiefs then Waters.
Staying on the Jon Asamoah subject, I do believe the 3rd round pick out of Illinois has the demeanor and physicality it takes to be a very good interior lineman for the Chiefs. Last year he was utilized as a fullback on goal line situations and brought in on special packages, but my bold prediction is that Asamoah is starting on the Chiefs O-line week 1. The Chiefs brass is very high on this guy and I can see him having a dominant preseason and earning his spot. Granted he doesn’t have near the resume of the Chiefs 2 guards atop the depth chart, but his combination of nasty attitude, athleticism and being 23 is a big reason I think he may outplay one of the veterans and steal that starting spot.
Speaking of guards atop the Chiefs depth chart, Ryan Lilja was a big free agent signing for the Chiefs last year. Lilja who is from the KC metro area jumped at the opportunity to come home and play for the team that first had him. In 2004, Lilja out of Kansas State went undrafted but signed by the Chiefs. If not for having one of the most solid lines in football at that time with the likes of Waters, Shields, Roaf and Weigman, Lilja would have probably been in KC ever since. Instead they tried to clear him through waivers and the Colts snatched him up quickly. He played in two Super Bowls for them while guarding for Peyton Manning, winning one of those.
Jeff Saturday will tell you that Lilja is the most underrated player in the league and he is well respected by his peers. I was very excited when I saw the Chiefs brought him back last year and I think he was a good investment. I was a little disappointed at times when I saw him get pushed around by the bigger defensive tackles, but his smarts and quickness make him an effective guard. I think the Chiefs will be happy to have him for about the next 3 years and I hope he has a better year this season than last.
The last interior lineman worth spending some time on is the Chiefs 2nd round pick 55th overall in this year’s draft, Rodney Hudson. Hudson was the most decorated offensive lineman to come out of not just Florida State, but ACC history. A back to back ACC lineman of the year, the All-American allowed just 1.5 sacks and committed just 1 penalty in 34 starts. He is undersized for a guard and most likely will play center, which is why it would be great for Weigman to be back for a year to teach him the position. If he had to though Hudson is capable of playing both guard positions and center so provides some great depth if he isn’t the Chiefs starting center.
Now to go outside let me start with first round pick 15th overall of the 2008 draft, Branden Albert. Albert exploded onto the scene in 2008 after making the move from guard he played in college to starting left tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs. Granted Albert played alongside D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Eugene Monroe at Virginia, but still it was a gamble to throw him out inexperienced like the Chiefs did. It paid off that season with him only allowing 4.5 sacks and only 1 penalty. The 09 season didn’t treat Albert as friendly, when he allowed 9 sacks which was 5th most and also committed 10 penalties when trying to play at a different weight.
Albert had a better year last season and I have never been very upset with how he has protected the blind side. I do think the Chiefs will make their biggest splash in free agency at this position. I could see the Chiefs spending some big bucks on free agent Tyson Clabo if Atlanta lets him get away. Either a big free agent or Albert at left tackle, I think the Chiefs will be just fine.
The right tackle position was occupied last season by Barry Richardson who at the beginning of the season was behind Ryan O’Callaghan, but because of injury, Richardson got his shot and played a very good right tackle. His attitude and competitive fire is something that can’t be coached. Richardson has a knack for nastiness and tough play, which makes me feel comfortable if the young 25 year old is there for 16 more starts this season.
Barry had his what I am calling his coming out party last season when removed from the game he went on to push one of the Chiefs coaching staff. Not just a gentle shove, but an all out I’m 6’7 get out of my way shove. Obviously it shows a lack of discipline, but more importantly to me it shows that fire that is needed to blow NFL defenders up every snap. This guy wants to succeed and I am not going to be the one to tell big Barry that he isn’t starting or that he is being taken out of the game.
I am satisfied with the Chiefs current make up on the O-line, but with their lack of addressing depth outside of Rodney Hudson in the draft, I expect the Chiefs to be big players on a lot of offensive line free agents. Wouldn’t surprise me to see them go after any of the following; Clabo, Matt Light, Jeremy Trueblood, Charlie Johnson and Deuce Lutui. I expect some intensity at this position once training camp gets going and I will be paying close attention to this group in St. Jospeh.