The offensive line is the centerpiece of not only an offense, but a team. A strong one will allow an offense to dominate, can help mask a shoddy defense and will anchor a team in the fourth quarter when time must be taken off the clock or those last few inches acquired for a first down. For the Kansas City Chiefs, that offensive line is an odd blend of young and old, sure things and question marks that provide some of the most intriguing roster questions heading into what will soon (hopefully) be the NFL free agency period.
It's the center spot that received some attention in this year's NFL Draft through the Chiefs second round choice of Miami OL Rodney Hudson. Hudson was praised for his work ethic, leadership and versatility along the line, and the Chiefs sought fit to grab him early on. The commonly held belief was that Hudson would take over for Casey Wiegmann in the middle, as Wiegmann was considering retirement very early in the offseason and has not been quiet about his own indecision. Thus, the Chiefs must be prepared for the eventual shift from a solid veteran to some new blood.
But the NFL lockout has come into play here, enough to keep Hudson from learning the playbook or practice with his teammates -- particularly Matt Cassel, the guy he must deliver the ball to time and again. One look at Jeff Saturday's relationship with Peyton Manning is a reminder of how essential communication is along the line, with the center serving not only as the first line of defense but also as another set of eyes and ears up front. Some other questions arose about Hudson's experience at guard rather than center, and the questions have made many, including Arrowhead Pride's Joel Thorman, call for Wiegmann as an essential keeper in the upcoming FA signing frenzy. He writes:
The final guy I consider a must keep, Wiegmann, wouldn't have been a must keep without the lockout. But because rookie Rodney Hudson hasn't been in a single organized Chiefs practice to date, we don't know who he is. We don't know if he can start and we don't know if he's the best man for the job so Wiegmann needs to stay to bridge the gap.
Those are wise words from Thorman, and it's definitely how every Chiefs fan feels, I would think. Obviously, if Pioli can have a holdover in place from a 10-win season, someone who clearly knows the system, the division and the game, then he should resign Wiegmann -- if he still wants to play, that is. But is that an essential move? Or is it, rather, merely a luxury?
The center position is an interesting one in that every year, rookies are constantly thrown into starting positions and succeed quite well. In Kansas City, with good-to-great veterans on each side like Brian Waters and Ryan Lilja in place, Hudson would be surrounded by a strong overall unit -- guys who can instruct and support along the way. Also, the Chiefs are bound to either keep or bring in at least a veteran to serve as a back-up. Plus there are others like Jon Asamoah who could potentially slide in (or slide Waters over).
Perhaps more importantly, the divisional competition is also weaker in the defensive middle, where only the Raiders have any formidable veterans. Other teams are trying to reconstruct their lines, like the Chargers who drafted Corey Liuget and the Broncos who return ends like Elvis Dumervil but lack any up-front threat. The Chiefs are not in a deep division with top-flight up front talent along the defensive line (a la NFC North or AFC North), so Hudson is actually in a good place to learn along the way. The Chiefs schedule is tougher this year, but he's not being thrown to the lions -- except for one literal game.
Wiegmann would be a nice keeper, no questions there. But as an essential re-signing, perhaps there's a case to be made that Hudson could be just fine on his own.