ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs trotted out what amounted to three rookies to help protect their half-billion dollar investment at quarterback Saturday, and the best evidence that their new-look offensive line performed adequately in their preseason opener came when they returned to practice.
Nothing had really changed.
Orlando Brown Jr. was still at left tackle. Joe Thuney was still next to him at guard. Third-round pick Creed Humphrey was still snapping the ball to Patrick Mahomes with fellow rookie Trey Smith at right guard and Lucas Niang at tackle.
In fact, the one job that appeared to be hanging in the balance — Niang competing with Super Bowl starter Mike Remmers on the right side — seemed to be even more solidified when the incumbent practiced at backup left tackle.
“They’re getting there. We still have plenty of room to go,” said Chief coach Andy Reid, an old-school offensive line coach who still harbors quite an affinity for the big boys up front. “And I mean, do we need to get better there? Yeah.”
But the fact that the same five that played the first few series in the Chiefs’ 19-16 win at San Francisco last weekend was back on the field for the final week of camp at Missouri Western State University was a positive sign.
The Chiefs completely overhauled their offensive line after injuries and opt-outs forced them to use a makeshift group in the most important game of the season.
And when their collection of backups and off-the-scrap-heap fill-ins were dominated by the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, general manager Brett Veach wasted no time rebuilding from the ground up.
Longtime left tackle Eric Fisher was out, a casualty of injury and expense, and Brown was brought in as the centerpiece of a massive trade with Baltimore before the April draft.
The 25-year-old Brown has already been to two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, though there are questions about whether his pass blocking will catch up to his dominant run blocking in an offensive system that puts so much pressure on Mahomes making plays downfield.
Regardless, Brown helped to pave the way for a 10-yard run by Clyde Edwards-Helaire on the first offensive play of the preseason. And when Mahomes’ day was done after just four offensive snaps, Brown and Co. remained in the game and helped backup quarterback Chad Henne drive downfield for a touchdown.
“I’ll have to go back and really study the film,” Brown said, “but just as far as certain things I’ve been working on with Patrick, really just getting a feel for it. You know, as a left tackle and an offensive lineman period, it’s always good to know where your quarterback wants to be, what he wants to do, what he’s thinking in certain situations. And that can help me react or put my player wherever I need to put it so he can do what he needs to do best.”
It also should help Brown coalesce with the rest of the newcomers up front.
The Chiefs signed Thuney, widely regarded as the best available guard, during free agency. Many considered Humphrey to be the best center in the draft. Smith fell to the sixth round because of some question marks in his medical history, but even he was given a first- or second-round grade by many scouts that saw him play at Tennessee.
Niang was a third-round pick a year ago, but he opted out of the season because of COVID-19 and missed a year of experience.
“I’m so happy for all three of them,” Brown said of the first-year starters. “It’s a great opportunity that they have, especially playing for an organization like this — and Patrick man, I mean, it’s such a blessing, such a great opportunity for them to come into in this league, man. You know, I got high hopes and high praise for them.”
So do the rest of the Chiefs. That was clear when the same five walked back out to practice on Monday.