KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Branden Albert is hurt, so is Jon Asamoah, and the No. 1 overall pick in last April’s draft has gone through a painful series of growing pains this season.
It’s been a tough time to be a member of the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line.
Yet despite all the shuffling caused by a spate of injuries, the front five has played perhaps its best football of the season the last three weeks, which just so happen to have coincided with the offense’s best performances of the season — and a frustrating three-game losing streak.
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“We’re just getting comfortable with the offense,” said offensive guard Jeff Allen, who missed a game earlier this season with an injury of his own. “There are a lot of little details in Coach (Andy) Reid’s offense. We’re just tweaking it to get better.”
Albert appears likely to miss Sunday’s game at Washington after hurting his knee last week against Denver. Asamoah is still missing practice due to a shoulder injury that has caused him to miss the last two games. Throw in tight end Anthony Fasano, a key blocker who is dealing with a concussion that will likely sideline him Sunday, and there should be reasons for concern.
Only that doesn’t seem to be the case.
That’s quite the credit to Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson.
Schwartz was signed in the offseason to provide depth across the line, and he’s poised to make his third straight start at right guard. He started at left guard when Allen was out, and also at right guard when Asamoah missed the season opener with an injury.
Stephenson, a third-round pick in 2012, started the past two games while Eric Fisher, the top pick in this year’s draft, was dealing with his own shoulder injury. But with Fisher back and Albert potentially out, Stephenson is preparing to start on the left side for the first time this season.
“It’s a little tough, but originally I am a left tackle so really for me the right side can be a bit awkward,” Stephenson said. “I just felt at home when I switched over there.”
Reid said that “we have confidence in those two kids,” when asked about Schwartz and Stephenson stepping into the offensive line. And the reality is that while they’ve been playing musical chairs much of the season, a group that played miserably the first few weeks has steadily gotten better.
Three weeks ago against Denver, they paved the way for the Chiefs to run for 144 yards, at the time the second-most of the season. The total was eclipsed in Round 2 against the Broncos last week, when Kansas City piled up a season-best 452 yards of total offense in a 35-28 defeat.
The previous week against San Diego, the Chiefs scored a season-high 38 points in a loss.
Quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles, the two guys who stand to gain the most from a stout front five, have also been productive the past few weeks.
Smith has thrown for nearly 300 yards each of the last two weeks, something he’s rarely done in his career, with seven touchdown passes and two interceptions in three games. He’s also run for nearly 100 yards over the same span, taking advantage of the big lanes up front.
Charles ran for 115 yards on just 14 carries against the Chargers, an astounding 8.21 yards per carry. He ran for 93 yards last week against Denver, becoming the first player in franchise history with at least 1,000 yards rushing in four different seasons.
“We have great depth,” Allen said. “We’ve got two guys in Schwartz and Stephenson that can come in and you don’t miss a beat. They’re fully capable and can be starters on any team in this league.”
Notes: Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said TE Dominique Jones will play against Washington, indicating the Fasano will not be available. Jones has been on the practice squad. … WR Dexter McCluster returned to practice after missing Wednesday for a personal matter. … LB Justin Houston is still missing practice due to a dislocated elbow. Reid said it’s unlikely that the Chiefs’ top pass rusher will be available against the Redskins.