That might be a tall stretch for some to believe but Stephenson has earned his starting stripes in Kansas City. When Tackle, Brandon Albert, went down with an injury, he played a strong left tackle in his absence. When, Eric Fisher, wasn’t getting the job done at right tackle, Stephenson slid ride into his starters spot and played lights out.
When Stephenson entered the NFL as a third round draft pick a couple years back, everyone felt he had the makings to be a solid offensive lineman. In other words, most NFL scouts viewed him as a project. That meant he’d need a season or two or three to grow into a solid back-up player with a shot at being a starter at some point.
But all that changed last year when the Blue Springs, Missouri, native came into camp ready to battle Fisher for a starting role. The problem with that plan was courageous but unrealistic. There wasn’t any chance the first overall draft pick wasn’t going to start come opening day for the Chiefs.
So Stephenson bided his time; worked hard in practice waiting to get his chance. After returning from an injury mid-season, Fisher began to struggle once again. So Stephenson stepped into Fisher’s slot and became a lock down right tackle. In fact, even when healthy again, Stephenson kept Fisher on the sidelines because he was too valuable a commodity in the starting line-up.
Once the Chiefs lost Albert via free agency to the Miami Dolphins, Stephenson felt he could surpass Fisher as the teams starting tackle this season. However, Head Coach, Andy Reid, nixed those thoughts in March when he emphatically stated Fisher would replace Albert at left tackle and Stephenson would play exclusively at right tackle.
So what did Stephenson do with that disappointing news? He went back to the gym and came into the Chiefs Mini-Camp in the best shape of his career. He added extra muscle and vowed to become the NFL’s best right tackle.
His play a year ago suggests those goals might not be to far from reality. Stephenson is strong, physical and has the footwork to become an All Pro run and pass blocker for the Chiefs.
Entering training camp he won’t have to worry about earning a spot or playing behind Fisher. Instead, he’s become his line mate and part of the five-man crew responsible for making sure nobody touches Quarterback, Alex Smith.
You have to respect the homegrown kid for his attitude. A lesser person would have moaned or worse requested a trade had another player bypassed the role he envision he could perform for his football team.
There is rule in the NFL, unless you’re a first round draft pick, you generally have to pay your dues to earn playing time ahead of more heralded players. In Kansas City, Stephenson doesn’t have to worry about that anymore because he’s arrived.
To this point of his NFL career, nothing has been given to Stephenson. Instead, he seized the moment and took it. Now he’s catapulted himself into a starters role that not only will help his Chiefs win more games this season, but also could open the door for a sizeable paycheck down the road.
Whatever his motivation appears to be at the moment, it’s clear Stephenson is doing it the right way.
Next Up: Travis Kelce
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