Uncertainty surrounded the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line entering the 2015 season, but the unit came together as the weeks went on.
Here is how the offensive line progressed the past season:
T ERIC FISHER: The former first overall pick in 2013 made strides over the past three seasons.
During his rookie year, Fisher would routinely drop his head at contact, lean on defenders and reach for the opponents shoulder pads.
Fisher, who incorporated boxing into his offseason workouts last year, has improved in run blocking with better foot work, punch and driving the defender to the second level. The former Central Michigan Chippewa also has more patience in his kick step and widening the pocket on a more consistent basis.
Fisher would benefit from sticking with boxing during the offseason, as it would allow him to fix his biggest flaw – his punch in pass protection. The third-year veteran will keep his hands down to his side and load up for a punch. Fisher needs to improve the jolt in his punch and his hand speed.
He has improved in his stunt pickup over the past year but will occasionally get beat on his inside shoulder. Fisher has two flaws in his game that could be minimized with the help of boxing.
G/T JEFF ALLEN: The fourth-year veteran entered a very important season with a contract year looming.
Allen, who initially projected at right tackle in training camp, sustained an MCL sprain during the preseason that set him back early in the 2015 season. But once Allen returned, his tape showcased an aggressive, mauling and determined blocker.
The former second-round pick provided the line with necessary attitude along the interior on combination blocks and at the second level. Allen was also a reliable pass protector, effectively picking up and passing off stunts.
He showed the proper skills required to warrant a substantial offer on the free agent market, but his injury history may hinder some of the offers he receives.
C MITCH MORSE: The rookie center had big shoes to fill with the loss of Rodney Hudson to the Oakland Raiders in free agency and the former Missouri Tiger performed very well during his rookie campaign.
Morse had trouble during training camp with his pad level, hand placement and re-anchor in the initial days, but he was able to progressively improve in these areas throughout the season. The second-round pick showed off his skillset very quickly against the Houston Texans with his ability to pull into space on screens and pulls.
Morse had very few errors expected of a rookie and held up very well against some of the better defenses in the league. The rookie center’s biggest red flag are two concussions sustained during 2015 and it is something to monitor during 2016.
G LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF: The former sixth-round pick came into the league as a very athletic lineman who would need time to acclimate to the rules of the NFL.
Duvernay-Tardif was thrown into the fire this season as his offensive snaps jumped from zero in 2014 to 807 during 2015. He had trouble with his angles on blocks and in staying level during pickups in stunt protection.
The second-year pro shows the right effort on the field; it was just a lack of experience that hindered his ability to execute all the technique that was needed at the right guard position. He will need to improve his strength and understanding of blocking angles to reach his full potential.
T/G JAH REID: The fifth-year veteran found himself starting within a week of being signed by the organization. Reid immediately saw snaps at right tackle in his first game as a Chief.
Reid was arguably the biggest signing the Chiefs made in limiting the revolving door they experienced with five right tackle since 2013. Reid provided a steady presence at the position with solid performances. He would struggle on occasion with some speed rushers around the corner, but continually grew comfortable at the position.
Reid showed where his true calling could be at right guard during the Chiefs’ playoff run. The former third-round pick provided the line with mauling right guard, was quick on pulls and traps and wanted to put his defender in the dirt on every single play. Reid would routinely drive his defender off the line of scrimmage and was effective at reaching the second level on combination blocks.
G BEN GRUBBS: The 29th overall pick in the 2007 draft was a solid addition to the Chiefs’ 2015 roster before landing on injured reserve with a neck injury in Week 13.
Grubbs provided the line with a mauling run defender, a solid pass protector that could pick up stunts, a very good punch and good athletic ability to pull on screens. The nine-year veteran was arguably the best lineman during the initial stages of the season. Grubbs ability punch and grasp a defender appeared to continually lose its effectiveness on tape as the season progressed.
The future for Grubbs is currently cloudy headed into the 2016 season.
T DONALD STEPHENSON: The native of Blue Springs, Mo., headed into a contract year during the 2015 season and was given the opportunity to open the season at left tackle and raise his financial stock.
The former Oklahoma Sooner initially performed well at the left tackle spot, but started to have trouble with his pad level and went to the bench after the first six games.
He returned to the starting lineup at right tackle for the season finale and started the two playoff games where he showed that right tackle appears to be his comfort zone for pad level, kick step and run blocking. He is a mauler in the run game and shines in combination blocks with a good drive.
Stephenson will likely find a new home in 2016.
G/C ZACH FULTON: The former sixth-round pick went from starting all 16 games and playing 997 offensive snaps during his rookie campaign in 2014 to a reserve role in 2015.
Fulton appeared stiff at times and was limited in his ability to help on pulls and screens, but promise as a center during the preseason. Fulton had a good punch, maintained his ground, good reach and drive blocks to go with it.
While he struggled in 2014 at picking up and passing off stunts at the guard position, he improved at the center position with the same task.
Fulton provided the Chiefs with a strong center at the point of attack when Morse missed time with a concussion. He started three regular-season games at right guard and one at center, and then started the two playoff games at center.
G PAUL FANAIKA: The fifth-year veteran came to Kansas City with arguably the best punch of any offensive lineman on the roster, but was placed on injured reserve with a back injury before the regular season. He played during the preseason and struggled in live action turning his shoulders and opening up rush lanes for defenders to exploit and looked stiff in pass protection.
ALSO ON ROSTER: Jarrod Pughsley, Daniel Munyer, Laurence Gibson, Reid Fragel, Michael Liedtke
OUTLOOK: The Chiefs will potentially need to invest in an offensive tackle or guard depending on where they elect to play Jah Reid and if Jeff Allen is retained.