The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line didn't get the job done run blocking in 2011 and the team averaged an anemic 3.9 yards per rush and had just five rushing touchdowns. The line was better pass-blocking, but was still around league average in sacks and quarterback hits.
General manager Scott Pioli recognized the need for improvement, and there will be competition for starting jobs and roster spots on the offensive line during training camp, particularly at left guard between Ryan Lilja and Jeff Allen.
According to the Chiefs' official website, the team rushed for 5.61 yards per carry going left behind Albert. The Chiefs aren't going to let Albert walk, and it's only a matter of time before Pioli opens up the wallet to keep him in Kansas City.
Rookie third-round draft selection Donald Stephenson should provide good injury protection for the Chiefs. Stephenson is extremely athletic for an offensive lineman and also played in a zone-blocking scheme in college.
While the Chiefs will not use the zone-blocking scheme 100 percent of the time, they will incorporate it into the offense—that is smart, because the zone-blocking scheme is proven to be effective outside of the red zone, but far from proven inside the red zone.
One of the biggest camp battles in Kansas City will be the battle between veteran Lilja and rookie Allen. According to Brian McIntrye of NFL.com, if Lilja doesn't win the job the Chiefs may ask him to restructure his contract.
Lilja's contract will pay him $3 million in 2012 according to Spotrac.com.
More likely, the Chiefs will allow Lilja to play out his contract, not only because they need the depth at guard, but because Lilja was born and raised in Kansas City. Allen is the younger player and the Chiefs certainly want him to win the starting job, but they might wait until midseason to make the switch if the battle is closely contested.
Casey Wiegmann "unofficially retired" and will pass the torch to Rodney Hudson. Wiegmann was the starting center in Kansas City for nine of the last eleven years, with a two-year stop in Denver from 2008-2009.
The Chiefs are confident Hudson, the second-year lineman out of Florida State, is ready to step into Wiegmann's shoes.
During this offseason program, he’s taken to it. He’s taken control and command, and he’s making the proper calls in practice. Physically, he’ll be able to make the blocks and pass protect the way we need him to. I’m encouraged by what I see. When we get to training camp, we’ll find out with the pads. - Romeo Crennel (via Randy Corovitz, The Kansas City Star)
The Chiefs would have done a lot more at the center position if they didn't think Hudson was the guy. One of Rob Bruggeman or Cam Holland figure to stick around on the practice squad in case the Chiefs need an emergency center.
Jon Asamoah doesn't have much competition for his starting spot and appears to be a lock as the team's starting right guard. The Chiefs don't have many players to push Asamoah, as the guard position included Darryl Harris, Luke Patterson, Justin Cheadle and Rich Ranglin with a grand total of zero NFL experience.
Patterson is switching from defense and shouldn't be expected to produce anything tangible in 2012, Cheadle and Ranglin are undrafted rookies that aren't expected to make waves during training camp, and Harris has spent the last three years with the Chiefs and hasn't gotten any playing time.
If Asamoah were to get hurt, the loser of the right guard competition between Allen and Lilja would likely be the backup. Another possibility for backup would be Donald Stephenson.
The Chiefs had issues with the play at right tackle and didn't re-sign starting right tackle Barry Richardson following the season. Richardson had started 32 straight games for the Chiefs, but allowed 50 pressures in 2011, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and also graded poorly in run-blocking.
Luckily for the Chiefs, the Houston Texans had salary cap issues and released right tackle Eric Winston. Winston instantly solidifies the right side of the offensive line and will also help the Chiefs utilize more zone principles in their blocking scheme.
Outside a 100 percent healthy Peyton Manning, Winston was the biggest addition via free agency in the AFC West.
David Mims should provide good injury protection for Winston. Mims came into the league as a raw prospect and a full offseason should help him develop into a solid reserve.