Get well soon, Eric Fisher.
You too, Jeff Allen.
Preseason — especially the first two weeks of the preseason — is a dance of mixing and matching, getting the bottom half of the roster some work while keeping the top half of it loose. Whether by design or necessity, you try things out.
And so we plead to Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid: Please — please, Big Red, for the love of poutine — try to avoid the combo of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Paul Fanaika as your starting right guard and right tackle, respectively.
At least, in a game that counts. Merci. Merci, merci, merci.
Injuries forced the Chiefs to improvise on the offensive line Friday night in the preseason home opener, with the tackles who’d started the week before, Fisher on the left side (sprained ankle), Allen on the right (sprained knee), unavailable. Against the Seahawks, Reid slotted Donald Stephenson at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Mitch Morse at center, and a right side that featured Duvernay-Tardif, a second year Canadian, and Fanaika — who’d rarely, if ever, played tackle on an NFL stage before.
“Of course, it’s not the easiest thing,” Duvernay-Tardif said after the Chiefs’ 14-13 victory that pushed the club to 2-0 in the preseason. “But at the same time, that’s what a good offensive line does, is be able to play with anybody.”
Big Red rolled the dice with 79-66-61-76-74. A winning lottery ticket, it wasn’t.
Seattle was always going to be a rough test of a transitional pocket, but Alex Smith’s happy feet and uneasy looks were evident from the start. Captured in isolation, things sometimes came off even worse. Fanaika, a 29-year-old vet making his home Chiefs debut, often found himself getting pushed back by Seahawks starters in the trenches, especially on stretch plays. With 7:48 left in the third quarter and a 3rd-and-14 screen, Jamaal Charles squirted free and appeared to have a wall, but Duvernay-Tardif, making his first NFL start, somehow juked into 25’s way, stopping the Pro Bowl back before he could really get going in what became a 3-yard gain.
During the Chiefs’ 2-minute drill to close out the half, facing a 1st-and-10 from the Seahawks’ 35 and with the hosts trailing 10-7, Duvernay-Tardif was exposed again, this time on a stunt, as end Michael Bennett got a free shot at Smith for a sack and a seven-yard loss with 24 seconds left in the quarter. Smith clocked it on second down, then chucked a prayer out just outside the end zone to cap the half.
Over the first two periods, the Chiefs’ quarterback wound up completing 11 of 18 throws for 81 yards with a touchdown to Jeremy Maclin (which rocked the house) and a pick-6 to Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (which didn’t). He was also sacked twice, and of the hosts’ final 14 plays of the half, three were Smith scrambles — not designed runs, but outright scrambles, jailbreaks.
“I mean, for sure, it’s a bit different, you’re protecting a great quarterback,” Duvernay-Tardif said of his evening. “And, of course, it’s a bit more stuff (to think about). But at the same time, I try to just go one play at a time and focus on my assignments, focus on my thing. And that way, you can keep the stress level low.”
Although by halftime Friday, the stress level for Chiefs faithful was halfway to the moon, a rough lesson in what life might look like without Fisher and Allen up front. For better or worse, Smith and Reid learned it, too. The hard way.
Photos: Denny Medley & John Rieger USA Today Sports Images