Kansas City quarterbacks were sacked 41 times a year ago, the highest mark allowed by a Chiefs' offensive line in quite some time. You have to go all the way back to 1992 to find a larger number, when poor David Krieg was pummeled 48 times behind a line that surprisingly included good players such as John Alt, Dave Szott and Tim Grunhard, but I digress.
So it's not surprising the outlook for 2007 is one of doom and gloom – for the offensive line away. With the retirement of Will Shields, most fans have understandably adopted a negative view of the immediate future up front.
But in my opinion, the sky isn't falling, and Chiefs quarterbacks won't be falling on their backs so often in '07. Given the talent acquired, I don't see any way the offensive line performs as poorly as it did in 2006.
I'm going to make a guarantee right here and right now – KC quarterbacks won't be sacked 41 times in 2007, and the Chiefs will average better than 4.18 yards per carry as a team.
Let's take a short trip down "offensive line lane" and examine the reasons why.
2006 Starter – Jordan Black – 13 sacks allowed, 5 penalties, 40 yards
2007 Starter – Damion McIntosh – 5.5 sacks allowed, 3 penalties, 25 yards
You can easily argue that no position on KC's roster was upgraded more than left tackle this offseason (although replacing Kendrell Bell with Donnie Edwards comes close). There's simply no way McIntosh is capable of playing as poorly as Black did last season.
As everyone knows, Black is out of position at offensive tackle. McIntosh came out of the womb ready to stone defensive ends, and has played practically his entire career at left tackle.
But don't tell that to some fans. I've heard McIntosh referred to as a "marginal replacement" for Black. Some media sources even referred to Black as a "key loss" during free agency this offseason, and one went so far as to proclaim McIntosh a downgrade, citing Black's "athleticism" as evidence.
This is simply ludicrous. McIntosh might not be Willie Roaf, but Jordan Black might be the worst starting offensive tackle in all of football. When you consider the Dolphins attempted 591 passes last season (fourth-most in the league), the 5.5 sacks McIntosh allowed are a pittance compared to the whopping figure Black gave up (and the Chiefs were 27th in pass attempts).
Now factor in the amount of help the Chiefs gave Black with tight ends throughout the season. They might as well have slapped an offensive lineman's number on Jason Dunn's back last year. I don't think McIntosh will require that kind of support – I watched him closely on NFL Network last week against the Chicago Bears, and he did a fine job against Alex Brown – all by his lonesome.
Bottom line – Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard will sleep easier this season with the big Jamaican getting their backs. I-65 is permanently closed in Kansas City (re-routed to Houston).
2006 Starter – Brian Waters – 2.5 sacks allowed, 3 penalties, 20 yards
2007 Starter – Brian Waters
I thought I had heard the silliest criticism of KC's 2007 offensive line when listening to people compare Jordan Black and Damion McIntosh, but I was wrong. No, I actually read one Chiefs fan refer to Brian Waters, a Pro-Bowl offensive guard, as "another year older and getting slower."
This is just ridiculous, folks. Waters is in his prime and is one of the top five guards in the game today. He's not declining in the least. And this year, he won't be compensating for a horrible player lined up next to him.
Remember how well Waters played when he squatted in the grass next to Willie Roaf? These were the years of Waters' ascension to dominance. I think the Chiefs will have a very good T-G combination on the left side this year with McIntosh and Waters. Nothing else really needs to be said.
2006 Starter – Casey Wiegmann – 1.5 sacks allowed, 1 penalty, 5 yards
2007 Starter – Casey Wiegmann
This is undeniably the weak link of KC's future offensive line. Wiegmann is obviously declining as an NFL player at 34 years of age, and is woefully unsuited for the type of offense the Chiefs want to run. He's undersized, and gets eaten alive twice a year by San Diego's Jamal Williams.
I was begging the Chiefs to take Hawaii's Samson Satele when he was on the board in Round 2 of the NFL draft back in April, but they passed. At 311 pounds, Satele would have been an ideal fit in the power running game the Chiefs plan to implement this year. Clemson's Dustin Fry (324-pound center), a favorite of Warpaint Illustrated draft guru Mike Campbell, also floated around until the fifth round. Either of these players would have fit nicely in Kansas City.
Maybe the Chiefs are hopeful second-year man Rudy Niswanger can steal Wiegmann's job in training camp, but I imagine we'll see another year from the veteran.
The good news – KC's guards won't need to help out the offensive tackles as much this season. That means they can give Wiegmann some more help inside, when he's matched up against a large defensive tackle.
2006 Starter – Will Shields – 6 sacks allowed, 0 penalties
2007 Starter – John Welbourn – 5 sacks allowed, 2 penalties, 10 yards
How do you replace a future Hall-of-Famer? You don't, not immediately anyway, but fortunately the Chiefs won't really have to do that this year.
Six sacks? Come on folks. I realize everyone loves Will Shields, but the big guy was declining. He was clearly at the end of his NFL rope. The Chiefs will miss him, but John Welbourn started 55 games at left guard in Philadelphia. He's not going to start whiffing on blocks now.
I wouldn't be too concerned about Welbourn's 2006 stat line. Five sacks in only nine games doesn't look good on paper, but most of those were allowed when Welbourn played outside. The Chiefs were desperate for bodies at right tackle when Kyle Turley and Kevin Sampson both got hurt early in the season, and Welbourn was in no shape to come back and play at a high level immediately after his suspension, anyway. At one point, he gave up a sack playing left tackle.
Here's something positive – when Welbourn played at guard in 2006, the Chiefs dominated opponents in the running game – 186 yards rushing against St. Louis, 200 yards rushing against Oakland. I have a feeling the Chiefs won't miss Will Shields as much as some people think they will – at least not immediately.
2006 Starter – Jordan Black, Kyle Turley, Kevin Sampson, John Welbourn – 11.5 sacks allowed, 7 penalties, 49 yards
2007 Starter – Chris Terry - 0 sacks allowed, 0 penalties
First – a quick explanation on the stats. By my count Jordan Black gave up 4.5 sacks on opening day at right tackle. Kyle Turley and Kevin Sampson gave up 2.5 and 1.5 respectively on the season. I figure three of Welbourn's five sacks came from the right tackle spot. That gives us a season figure of 11.5, approximately. Ouch.
I've penciled in Chris Terry as the starter, even though likely the Chiefs have not. His legal problems in Atlanta appear to have been smoothed over since we've not heard anything concerning them in weeks now.
I'm hopeful Terry can win this job in 2006 because in limited does at right tackle last season, he was extremely solid. He's probably got the quickest feet of any offensive tackle on KC's roster at the moment. And of course, he was part of two great offensive lines in Carolina and Seattle earlier in his career.
If Will Svitek wins the right tackle job in training camp and preseason, so be it. Either way, the Chiefs will be much more stable at the position than they were a year ago. Week-to-week continuity is the single most important factor in offensive line play, and the Chiefs just didn't have it a year ago with a constantly shuffled deck along the offensive line - egregiously so at right tackle.
I hope I've convinced you that this offensive line is in far better shape than it was a year ago. But in my mind, the single biggest reason why the line will play better this year is preparation. When Willie Roaf suddenly retired before training camp last year, the Chiefs were left scrambling. They were forced to go out and sign a 265-pound offensive tackle.
That's not the case this year. They have a plan (which began last year when they signed Chris Terry midseason) and are clearly executing it. Now, let's just hope everyone can stay healthy – including the quarterbacks.
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