Can Eric Fisher Solidify the Chiefs Offensive Line on the Left Side?

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Can Eric Fisher Solidify the Chiefs Offensive Line on the Left Side?
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs made a critical error in the 2013 NFL draft by selecting Eric Fisher No. 1 overall. Not because Fisher didn’t deserve to be the first player drafted, he did. Many people concluded that Fisher was the best player available.

Where the Chiefs erred in the selection of Fisher was when they decided to play him on the right side for a year. Fisher struggled with the transition, mentioning on many occasions that the transition to the right side was the most difficult thing about being a rookie. He did so in interviews with Jenny Vrentas of MMQB.com, Bleacher Report’s featured Columnist Brett Gering and several others.

Now, Fisher is moving back to left tackle, according to head coach Andy Reid via the team’s official website.

“That’s where he played in college,” Reid added when announcing the switch.

In all likelihood, moving Fisher back to left tackle was part of the plan for him from the very beginning. The Chiefs will now be relying on Fisher to help solidify an offensive line in transition.

The Chiefs lost two starters and another starting-caliber player in free agency. Returning is a group of projected starters that are young and talented, but need to improve if the Chiefs don’t want to feel the sting of losing their best two offensive linemen.

There are also competing views on moving Fisher back to the left side.

Conventional thinking suggests that left tackle is the more valuable spot. Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus called into question that thinking last year using their proprietary grades and film study. Pete Dougherty of the USA Today built upon it with quotes from scouts and an elite left tackle’s lack of impact on team wins.

The Chiefs may feel the need to put Fisher on the left because of his status as a No. 1 pick. This would be the conventional view. The other possibility is that they finally realized that forcing him to play right tackle was a mistake. The former is much more likely than the latter, but both things may be true.

One looming question is if Fisher can now transition back to left tackle with ease. The assumption is that the muscle memory and technique were a problem last season and that’s why it took Fisher most of the season before he started to get comfortable on the right side.

Over the final month or so of the season, Fisher really started to figure things out. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Fisher allowed just one sack, two hits and eight hurries over the final five games.

“I think he showed that you know what, it slowed down for him the final third of the season,” general manager John Dorsey told The Kansas City Star.

Eric Fisher's Split Season
Split PFF Grade + Graded Games - Graded Games Sacks Hits Hurries
First 7 Games -17.7 0 6 4 3 20
Last 7 Games +0.1 3 2 3 2 15
Difference - +3 -4 -1 -1 -5

ProFootballFocus.com

In the final seven weeks, Pro Football Focus gave Fisher three positive grades, two negative grades and two average grades. The negative grade came in a game that Fisher injured his shoulder and the Chiefs held him out the following week.

In Fisher’s first seven games, Pro Football Focus gave Fisher six negative grades and one average one and allowed six sacks. In total, Fisher finished 70th out of 76 qualified tackles with only two right tackles graded out worse.

In theory, it should be easier for Fisher to transition back to his natural side. Maybe he’s just not an "ambiturner".

Dorsey seemed to blame everything except the side of the field Fisher was playing on for his rookie struggles. Dorsey mentioned learning that there are different types of pass-rushers in the NFL, strength and technique, as potential issues.

Who should play left tackle for the Chiefs in 2014?

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“He understands that he’s got an offseason to get bigger and stronger, and size will help him a little bit,” Dorsey told The Kansas City Star. “We all knew going in that he’d be able to function and play his first year, he’d have to learn certain techniques it took to play in the National Football League, and we knew that in year two, he would come in and be a really good player and that’s what we’re banking on.”

The Chiefs could have handled Fisher a lot better, but there was no turning back once they made the decision to draft him and play him on the right side. Not until the Chiefs could give Fisher an entire offseason to make the switch.

A bad rookie year doesn’t mean that Fisher can’t turn things around. The late-season improvement is certainly a good sign of things to come. Putting him back on the left side also seems like a wise decision to help him improve.

If Fisher struggles, the Chiefs can always flip Donald Stephenson back to the left side. Like Fisher, Stephenson finished the season strong.

Pro Football Focus gave Stephenson a 6.6 grade in seven starts from Week 12 through the playoffs that included three starts on the right and four on the left side. He allowed just one sack and three quarterback hits in those seven games, with 16 hurries. One of those hits on quarterback Alex Smith and five hurries came against the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs and was his only bad game.

Chiefs 2014 Offensive Line Depth Chart
LT LG C RG RT
Starter Eric Fisher Jeff Allen Rodney Hudson Rishaw Johnson Donald Stephenson
Backup Donald Stephenson Rokevious Watkins Eric Kush Jeff Linkenbach ?

Ourlads.com (with adjustments by the author)

The Chiefs need their two young offensive tackles to do well because they have far bigger concerns at offensive guard. Losing Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah in free agency means the Chiefs will have a new starter at right guard in 2014.

Returning left guard Jeff Allen graded out poorly, according to Pro Football Focus, both in the run game and in pass protection. Allen had just one positive grade all season in either category, a modest positive run-blocking grade in Week 16.

The Chiefs are putting a lot of pressure on their young offensive line in 2014, but no player is under more pressure than Fisher.  If Fisher struggles, it will be a major indictment on the decision to draft him and then make him switch positions two years in a row.

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