Battle for reserve role behind Eric Winston and Branden Albert up for grabs

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Chiefs hope camp competition establishes swing tackle

St. Joseph, Mo. – Romeo Crennel was asked an interesting question before the opening practice of training camp.

As you sit here today, do you see any starting jobs open on the team right now on either side of the football?

It’s a fair question. Take sub-package position battles out of the equation and this roster appears set in its starting lineup at the majority of its base offensive and defensive positions. Of course, things can change quickly in the NFL and Crennel makes it a point to remind his players of that.

I tell them that all jobs are open, that everybody is starting over, even the veteran guys, because every year you do start over,” Crennel said. “Now, I know what the veterans can do and I’m going to be biased toward those guys, but if a young guy comes on and shows me something, then he might end up getting some plays.”

There are, however, plenty of reserve battles that could eventually impact the starting lineup. A single injury can re-shuffle an entire deck of cards - something the Chiefs know plenty about after an unfortunate rash of injuries plagued the team last season.

One of the battles worth watching is at offensive tackle behind starters Branden Albert and Eric Winston. The Chiefs are set with their starting pair, but have a diverse group of players competing for the primary reserve role.

There’s third-round draft pick Donald Stephenson, second-year prospect David Mims and a horde of undrafted free agents vying for the job. The Chiefs are even asking second-round pick Jeff Allen to pull double-duty at guard and tackle.

But there’s a new face in the competition as well.

In a roster move that went largely unnoticed because of its timing, the Chiefs added veteran tackle Tony Ugoh to the mix as players began reporting to training camp on Thursday. His 40 games played and 28 career starts were attractive for a team looking to establish depth, but the Chiefs are also Ugoh’s third stop since being released by the Colts in September 2010.  

“Guys bounce around the league, sometimes its injury and sometimes its circumstance,” Crennel said. “Tony was available and we felt like he was a need for us, so we added him to the team. Whether he sticks and how long he stays is kind of going to be up to him.”

The addition is significant because the depth on Kansas City’s offensive line is filled with young and inexperienced players.

Ugoh is the 15th member to join the position group, but just one of five players with previous starting experience. He’s also just one of two players outside the projecting starting five to have ever played in an NFL game. Rob Bruggeman is the other, appearing in two games with the Falcons from 2010-11.

“We had him in for a workout, and we were looking for a swing kind of tackle anyway, and Tony has started in this league,” Crennel said. “So we feel that his experience will be a good thing for us and some of the young guys we have on this team.”

Ugoh also has experience working under new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr. last season with the N.Y. Giants.

A December pickup, Ugoh joined New York’s roster after offensive tackle Stacy Andrews was hospitalized and placed on injured reserve with blood clots in both lungs. Ugoh served as the Giants’ swing tackle during their late-season Super Bowl surge and even drew a starting assignment as an extra blocker in a pivotal Week 16 win against the Jets.

Although his last full season with a team came in 2009, Ugoh’s veteran presence gives the Chiefs more options while prospects like Stephenson develop.

“(Stephenson) has got good ability and good size, but I still think that he has a lot to learn,” Crennel said. “He’s got t be able to push himself a little bit. But if he will buckle down and learn to play this pro-game, then I think he has the talent will be a good player for us.”

The competition behind Branden Albert and Eric Winston looks like one of camp’s most wide-open races. Whether it’s Tony Ugoh filling the role, or a young player like Donald Stephenson showing he’s ready to play, the battle is one worth following throughout the duration of training camp.

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