For the past few years, the Kansas City Chiefs have been implementing a beautiful plan along the offensive front to keep the line both capable and affordable. Instead of bringing in a high priced veteran free agent, a la Carl Nicks, the team has chosen to fortify the trenches with one draft pick each year and slowly develop that player into a starter. The plan, to this point, has been coming along nicely.
While Scott Pioli inherited a stable left tackle in Branden Albert, the rest of the line has needed attention since his arrival. He selected Jon Asamoah in the 2010 draft with a third round choice from Illinois. Rodney Hudson of Florida State was the selection in 2011 in the second round. This year, it was another early choice with the second round pick of Illinois lineman Jeff Allen.
Over those years, the draft pick has enjoyed the chance to sit behind a capable veteran and learn the terminology, schemes and speed of the NFL without the pressure to perform from day one. Asamoah sat behind Ryan Lilja at right guard. Hudson took his time behind Casey Wiegmann at center. The complete shift along the offensive interior was supposed to happen this year as Allen sat behind Lilja, who shifted sides after Brian Waters left. Now his time frame has been pushed ahead.
With the news on Wednesday that Rodney Hudson was being placed on injured reserve by the Chiefs front office, the entire offensive line has shifted to adjust accordingly. Lilja was moving to his third starting spot in as many years on a permanent basis as the new Chiefs center. Allen was sliding into the starting role. Veterans Russ Hochstein and Bryan Mattison were signed to bolster the loss.
Allen stepped in on Sunday to fill in the gap at left guard, and that is exactly where he wil stay. Crennel spoke on the changes from practice at Arrowhead on Wednesday and he made it clear that Allen is now a fixture. Instead of being the future at the position, Allen must learn on the fly between a pillar in Albert and a man transitioning himself in Lilja. It was not how the team pictured.
What, then, will this make of "the plan" -- the strategy to bring along rookie linemen slowly and allow them to come in with a full year of observation and practice reps under their belt? That's a luxury the team simple doesn't have anymore. Allen remained the only real back-up option in case of emergency, such as this. That means the team had the faith that he could do exactly what he has been asked to do.
While it might not be the master plan, in this instance, Allen is apparently ready to do what he must. When asked about Allen's performance on Sunday, Lilja said, "I thought he did an excellent job at guard. He's got to do an even better job this week because it's a better front and it's for the division."
Jamaal Charles went even further to note that Allen was already in the game whenever he broke the 91-yard touchdown run. When asked what he thought would change given Hudson's injury, his short answer: "Nothing much." He went on to explain:
"Jeff [Allen] came in, did a great job, and he was in there when I ran that 91-yard touchdown. I don't think we're going to get out of our game plan, we're just going to say with the same thing. We know that San Diego has got one of the best run defenses right now, but something's got to give so we've got to go out there and do what we can."
While the move takes away a lot of depth for the team and places Lilja in an uncomfortable position of learning on the fly and making all of the calls from center that Hudson had learned to do, it seems the Chiefs should be set at the guard position. If anything, it provides an early learning curve for Allen that will only benefit the Chiefs in the long run as their young line develops chemistry and grows together as a cohesive unit.
For Lilja, it's a challenge. For Hudson, it's a disappointment. But at least the Chiefs seem well-prepared for a new player at left guard, even if they had to give up their strategy to get there.