O-Line in Focus

Posted Aug 16, 2010

Injuries have brought the o-line into focus during recent practice sessions, but the group has positional versatility from top to bottom

When the Chiefs hit the practice field on Monday afternoon, depth along a banged up offensive line came into focus. For the second consecutive day, Kansas City was missing three offensive linemen from practice and, as a result, a regular starter over the past two seasons was repping at a different position.

Ryan Lilja was held out of practice this afternoon and Rudy Niswanger took over right guard duties in Lilja’s place with the first-team offense. Though Niswanger has never started at a position besides center for the Chiefs, he does have experience in playing other positions along the offensive line.

The fifth-year player saw action as a reserve right guard in four games for the Chiefs during November of 2007 and started at least one game at all five offensive line positions during his career at LSU from 2002-2005. He’s also still locked in a position battle for the starting center position with veteran iron man Casey Wiegmann.

Niswanger was the starting center vs. Atlanta, though it appears that it will be Wiegmann’s turn to start this weekend in Tampa.

Although the Chiefs gained a body along the offensive front with Jon Asamoah returning to practice today, both Darryl Harris and Barry Richardson joined Lilja in the bike area to give the line 11 active members for the workout. That number actually dropped down to 10 for a brief moment when Ryan O’Callaghan appeared to suffer a leg injury of some type, but he would eventually return to action.

It seems like the offensive line has been in constant motion since the first day of training camp when Ikechuku Ndukwe and Brian Waters were both held out of camp’s first session. In total, eight of the Chiefs 14 offensive linemen have missed some sort of practice time over the course of camp. The high amount of bumps and bruises, however, doesn’t mean that the group isn’t working through them.

“Jon was out there today, and I know that he was a little hurt, but he was out there giving it his best effort,” Waters said.

Waters’ early days in the league were groomed by playing alongside consistent performers that rarely missed a snap. Players like Wiegmann, Willie Roaf and Will Shields played injured throughout their careers in Kansas City, but came together to form one of the most reliable and talented offensive lines that pro football has ever seen. It’s an upbringing that Waters is hoping to pass on to younger members of the Chiefs front five.

“They really battled through some nicks and dings to make sure that they were there every Sunday,” Waters said. “That’s who I learned from and hopefully it’s something that I’ll be able to pass down to some of these guys.”

Though Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has taken notice of the missing offensive linemen, he isn’t concerned about the health of Kansas City’s big bodies at this point in time.

“This is training camp,” Weis said. “In training camp, if you don’t bang each other a lot, then physically you’re not ready to go. I’m confident that we’ll have everyone here geared up and ready to go as the preseason goes on and as we get into the season.

“But this is training camp,” Weis re-iterated. “People get banged up in training camp. It’s what happens.”

The good thing for the Chiefs is that almost every member of the offensive line has experience playing multiple positions. That aspect of the Chiefs depth was obviously demonstrated when Niswanger worked at right guard today.

Branden Albert : Played left and right guard in college; plays left tackle in NFL

Jon Asamoah: Can play left or right guard; practiced as a center in college

Colin Brown: Has played both guard and tackle since being drafted in 2009

Tyler Eastman: Listed by the Chiefs as both a guard and tackle

Darryl Harris: Primarily a guard, but has experience as a center as well

Lemuel Jeanpierre: Started college games at both guard posts and center

Ryan Lilja: Played left guard in Indianapolis; plays right guard for Chiefs

Ikechuku Ndukwe: Started three games at right tackle in 2009; primary position is guard

Rudy Niswanger: NFL experience at both center and guard

Barry Richardson: Can play either tackle position

Dan Santucci: Played as a center in Cincinnati; reps at guard in Kansas City

Brian Waters: All pro guard, but played as a center in Chiefs debut

The days of the early 2000s when the Chiefs went to battle with the same five offensive linemen nearly each and every week is rare. The Chiefs were truly blessed across the line during that stretch of time. In today’s NFL, positional versatility is of the upmost importance.

“The thing about this league now is that you’ve got to have at least eight or nine guys to be prepared to play,” G Brian Waters said. “It’s a tough season and it’s hard to have five guys play the whole season , so you’ve got to have as a many bodies as you can ready.”

The more you can do, the better.

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