Where Turnover Means Trouble


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Jan 22, 2006
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Where Turnover Means Trouble
Jul 04, 2006, 4:52:58 AM by Jonathan Rand

The Chiefs’ offensive line is like the best car you ever owned. It’s so sturdy, high-performing and durable that it’s easily taken for granted – until you hear everybody else complain about their repair bills and how often they have to shop for new cars.

You’re reminded of how the rest of the league lives by an ESPN.com story that highlights the high turnover in NFL lines. Columnist Len Pasquarelli figures that the league this year will have 49 new offensive line starters, including those switching positions.

That’s 1.53 new offensive line starters per team. Eight teams are expected to have at least three new starters, including the Oakland Raiders, who could have five. Big challenges await most of the 13 new offensive line coaches, including the Chiefs’ John Matsko.

It’s startling to notice all this turnover because the Chiefs get a new starting lineman about as often as some people get their houses painted. Since left tackle Willie Roaf joined the Chiefs in 2002, the only long-term line changes have been at right tackle – when John Welbourn replaced John Tait in 2004 and when Welbourn’s recent retirement created a vacancy for 2006.

The interior trio of guards Brian Waters and Will Shields and center Casey Wiegmann has stayed intact. Since 2002 alone, Roaf, Shields and Waters have combined for 10 Pro Bowl berths, and that goes a long way toward explaining why the Chiefs have led the NFL in total yardage for each of the past two seasons.

Every team in the league appreciates the value of a strong offensive line. Some head coaches insist that’s where you should build a team’s foundation.

But developing an elite line involves identifying and developing talent and making a commitment to pay for it. Star linemen are highly sought in free agency, but the Chiefs’ only recent free-agent line loss was Tait, a first-round pick. That left the Chiefs without any of their own first- or second-round choices starting on the line.

Shields lasted until the third round of the 1993 draft, which was especially fortunate for the Chiefs because he was their first pick that year. Waters was a recycled tight end.

Roaf, obtained in a trade for a third-round pick, was a steal. Wiegmann is the Chiefs’ only starting lineman who was signed as an unrestricted free agent. They’re hoping they’ve made another shrewd catch in Kyle Turley, who’s coming out of an injury-induced retirement and will compete for the right tackle job.

The stability and performance of the Chiefs’ line also has been enhanced by having line coach Mike Solari for nine years. Solari, now the offensive coordinator, remains a stable presence for his former linemen, who, no doubt, will embrace new coach Herman Edwards’ commitment to the running game.

The primary challenge to the Chiefs’ line, obviously, is advancing age. Roaf, 36, and Shields, going on 35, are headed for the Hall of Fame, but each makes it clear that each upcoming season could be his last.

Long careers of battling defenders have left both with battered knees that require lots of rest during training camp. Roaf also has been battling hamstring problems since last year.

Roaf’s importance to the Chiefs was highlighted last season when his hamstring finally allowed him to return for the last six games. The offense again became its old steamrolling self and finished as the league’s top unit for the second straight year.

Edwards and his staff can be forgiven if they hold their breath while watching to see if Roaf and Shields stay healthy in training camp and are ready to answer the bell. Edwards better enjoy them while he can. His line will require renovating soon enough.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

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