The Chiefs inserted Parker Ehinger at left guard from the first day of training camp and that’s where he’s been since. He’s thrilled about the opportunity, but remaining in his position for a few weeks didn’t seem odd to him.
“It comes with a lot of work, a lot of preparation,” Ehinger said.
For the 2016 Chiefs, having an offensive lineman hold down his position for more than a few days of training camp counts as remarkable consistency compared to last year.
Steady along the line is where the Chiefs were heading into Saturday’s preseason opener against the Seahawks.
This time a year ago and throughout the preseason, the Chiefs shuffled their linemen because of injuries, position switches, promotions and demotions. The mixing and matching continued into the regular season.
But from the time the veterans reported late last month, Eric Fisher has lined up at left tackle, Ehinger at guard, Mitch Morse at center, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff at right guard and Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.
Guarantees aren’t possible. Changes may be necessary. With the games starting, evaluation will reveal progress or lack of it. But the Chiefs see value in the consistency and show every intention of making this lineup work.
“It’s been nice to have that kind of stability,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s rare with that group. You’re constantly dealing with injuries, guys moving around and changing positions, which we’ve certainly done in our past.
“But to have that group there that’s been pretty stable and going, it’s good.”
Fisher, the former overall No. 1 selection who signed a four-year $48 million extension just before camp opened, seems to have found a home after playing three positions last year.
Schwartz hasn’t missed a snap in four NFL seasons with the Browns and he was one of the Chiefs’ most significant acquisitions. Last season the Chiefs used four players at right tackle and nine different starting lineups on the offensive line in 18 games, including the playoffs.
Morse and Duvernay-Tardiff won starting jobs as rookies last season. They moved around the depth chart early on but wound up with a combined 28 starts.
Ehinger, a fourth-round selection from Cincinnati, enters a more stable environment.
“We mesh very well, among the starters,” Ehinger said. “I’ve kind of clung on to Mitch Morse and Eric Fisher. Mitch isn’t quite a veteran but he seems very wise for having a year under his belt. It’s like he’s played three or four years in the league when I met him.
“And Eric, the same way. He’s played so much since he’s been here.”
Communication is a big advantage in the continuity.
“The lines of communication just get better and better,” Smith said. “That’s what you ultimately want, those guys really kind of becoming one unit. Because when we’re all on the same page, those five guys and myself I really think good things happen and you avoid the big, negative plays. You’re seeing things well and playing faster.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid sees an offensive line that grows comfortable with each other leading to faster, crisper offense.
“You’ve got to make decisions in a split-second,” Reid said. “The defense is moving round, and it’s having flow in there. You’ve got to make a decision quickly in a matter of a couple of seconds and that can determine whether the quarterback is on his back or running back is on his back or a successful play.
“They more they play together, the better they are at that.”
The Chiefs’ confidence in the line is boosted by who is on the second team. On the depth chart at right tackle is Jah Reid, who started 10 games for the Chiefs last season and at center Zach Fulton, who started six.
That makes this offensive line potentially the deepest in the Reid/GM John Dorsey era.
“You have to be strong at your foundation,” Dorsey said. “If you can get those five guys together, and they come together as one, you have a real offensive line. I think that’s slowly beginning to come to fruition here.”