Season Preview: Chiefs Offensive Line

With the injury to Willie Jones, the Chiefs have a solid starting line but this team needs to develop some back ups before the regular season starts.

Willie Roaf was the key acquisition from last year's team and no one thought he would come back from knee surgery to play at an exceptional level all year long. Not bad for a guy who was limited in practices and did not feel 100% until midway through the year. But what Roaf did was stabilize an offensive line that was the best in the NFL in 2002.

The Chiefs enter the 2003 season with the NFL's best offensive line. It was very obvious that the success of Trent Green and Priest Holmes could be related to a stable offensive line. This unit played together all season. They were strong and united.

They are lead by underrated center Casey Wiegmann. He was undersized and unloved in Chicago with the Bears. What Wiegmann has done since he came to the Chiefs a couple of years ago, is take charge of the offensive line.

He leads the audibles at the line of scrimmage on blocking schemes. His work ethic in training camp and on game days is so obvious and apparent. He rarely gets called for holding calls, which is a great thing considering centers hold on every play.

He does not get the respect that he deserves but he is appreciated by the Chiefs and the other offensive lineman. The Chiefs can't afford to lose Wiegmann. Because they have yet to develop any type of replacement and have little to choose from with Jason Anderson, Shawn Lynch and rookie Jonathan Ingram. Deep snapper Kendall Gammon can do the job but he's so valuable on special teams that he can't afford to be used as an every down player.

Next two Wiegmann on the line are guards Brian Walters and perennial pro bowler Will Shields. There is not a better guard in the NFL. Not even close. He's entering his 11th season and has made seven Pro Bowls.

But what makes Shields so special is his ability to physically beat down nose tackles and guards. What makes him so unique is his ability to plow the road down field on running plays and screen plays. Shields usually hits two or three defenders on plays that spring big plays for Holmes.

His mate Brian Walters is cut in the same mold. He's the perfect tendon to Shields. He is as physical a guard as you will find in the NFL and though he stays home more often than Shields he just levels other defenders. His low center of gravity and the way he sets his legs and does not get caught being straight up when oncoming rushers want to get to Green, make him invaluable to the Chiefs interior line.

As far as back-ups, the Chiefs drafted Jordan Black from Notre Dame in hopes he could provide some depth at the guard position. He is slated to back-up Shields and eventually could replace him as the starter when Shields retires. Darnell Autry has yet to develop and Victor Allotey is going to get plenty of chances to play in the pre-season but the chances either will make the squad are slim.

The Chiefs need to find a solid back up for Walters and only Vermeil favorite Donald Willis appears to be a lock on the roster. If one of the Chiefs lineman falls in the pre-season then the Chiefs will have to be creative. Willis can do the job but the Chiefs better hope that Black develops a lot faster. He's capable of filling in at either position.

But nothing makes your offensive line stronger than your tackles. The Chiefs have solid performers up the middle but John Tait and Willie Tate manage the ends and had amazing seasons in 2002.

When the Chiefs traded for Willie Roaf last season in a pre-draft trade with New Orleans this was not good news for their current left tackle John Tait. To say Taits life in Kansas City has been easy is an understatement of world proportions.

With his contract holdout and his loud mouth agent Ethan Locke, Tait was thrust into a situation where he was never accepted in the first year under the Gunther Cunningham regime. But he quickly earned a starting spot as the left tackle and wall was forgiven.

But when Loaf was acquired that meant Tait had to move left tackle where he'd never played the position in high school or college let alone in the NFL. But Tait after a camp brawl with rookie Eddie Freeman last year, accepted the challenge and made the successful transformation from left to right tackle without skipping a beat.

It's a testament to Tait who has overcome a lot to be one of the leaders. With that, Roaf took over the left tackle and his dominance was felt early on. Trent Green never had to fear for his life from oncoming rushers who wanted to rip the #10 jersey off his back. The blind side is called that for the reason. What you can't see can get you killed in the NFL.

Roaf was always known for being a great pass rusher but the Chiefs were surprised by his ability to be a blocking stud on running plays. He showed good agility as the season went on and the Chiefs rushing game increased in success as the Chiefs now felt comfortable running around both tackles.

But Roaf is getting older and Tait will be a free agent after the 2003 season, so it's important that they find some back-ups in a hurry. They drafted Brett Williams, who would have a first round pick, if been not for injures at Florida State. He was a steal with the fourth pick and he is arguably one of the best tackles that ever played at Florida State. He will have to learn both tackle positions but he's a lock to make the team. He could be a starter in a year or two.

Marcus Spears and Willie Jones have NFL experience and Jones continues to be a mystery with his size. But Vermeil's belief in Jones won;t withstand the imjury that he suffered against the Packers in the Exibition opener.

It's likley that Jones will retire. Spears can start in a pinch but Jones is likely on his last chance in the NFL. The only other tackles on the roster are Aaron Crittendon and Garrick Jones. Neither is expected to make the roster.

But lets hope the back-ups are not part of the equation in 2003. If the line can stay intact the entire season, then they have a legit chance to be the best in the NFL again and win the AFC West. Only the Oakland Raiders have an offensive line that can compete with the Chiefs but they have question marks entering this season that rate the Chiefs higher.

If Roaf gets hurt, that could hurt the Chiefs chances. So it's important that the Chiefs develop another lineman on the inside or outside. The Chiefs have the flexibility to move guard Will Shields to right tackle with John Tait moving to left so the Chiefs have some options but they'd rather have their entire line together all season.

But Roaf, who is now fully recovered from his knee surgery, is expected to have a great season. The success and health of Roaf might just be the key to the team repeated its offense success in 2002 and to their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl this year.


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