The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line, and specifically offensive tackle, has been considered a position of need throughout this entire off-season. Scott Pioli finally acknowledged his agreement with those in favor of bringing in some help with the signing of Baltimore Ravens’ left tackle Jared Gaither earlier today. Just don’t expect a quick fix or easy transition.
Questions lingered over whether the Chiefs were set as a playoff team along the front line, and Pioli certainly responded this off-season with a series of moves that will redefine most of the o-line. Casey Wiegmann returns in the middle on a one-year deal to prep the way for second round choice Rodney Hudson. Brian Waters was let go after a Pro Bowl season (and potential Hall of Fame career) to make way for Ryan Lilja at left guard and the entrance of Jon Asamoah into the starting lineup. That means the Chiefs could have three new players (including Lilja’s switch) in new places along the interior.
On the outside, the questions continued whether or not Barry Richardson can hold up as a playoff-caliber right tackle. For that matter, the same concerns persist about Branden Albert and whether or not he should eventually be pushed inside. If Gaither gets healthy, someone will eventually lose their slot because the talent there is simply undeniable.
Yet to that point, it’s still going to be a while, giving both Albert and Richardson continued time to prove their point. They’re both still young and learning their respective positions, after all, and Gaither is probably not ready to go yet. The Chiefs value continuity and the coaches know the players and vice versa that are already in place. Richardson and Albert know the schemes, they know what’s expected and they’ve proven able to perform up to the task on a division winning roster.
Gaither’s health is also an aspect of all of this as he deals with lingering back issues that kept him out all last season. It’s difficult to tell whether or not he’s completely healthy, and back issues are certainly the sort of injury to linger and keep a player out. Even if a guy like Richardson loses his job, it’s obvious he’ll still play plenty in 2011.
Any expectations for Gaither to automatically become the new starter at left or right tackle for the Chiefs are unfounded at this point. The primary task at hand for all involved is for Gaither to get to know the system, coaches, environment and teammates and to prove once and for all that he’s healthy and ready to go. Until then, the Chiefs have men who’ve been in place for some time, and it’s that continuity that plays in their favor for probably the first few weeks of the regular season at least.