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JJ Watt and Co. will star down young Chiefs offensive line in season opener at Houston


KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The Kansas City Chiefs are going with a rookie center, a right guard who has never started an NFL game and a largely unproven left tackle for their season-opener Sunday in Houston.

Perfect way to face the Texans' J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

If you're a masochist.

Yet the Chiefs sounded confident Wednesday that a front five that has never played together in its present configuration will be able to protect quarterback Alex Smith from one of the league's most feared pass rushers in a loud and hostile road environment.

"I look at it like it's a great opportunity," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "It's a great challenge to be able to play a great player. You look forward to being able to test yourself against who you think is the best. I think that's how our guys will go about their job."

When Watt and Clowney step on the field at NRG Stadium, they will see Donald Stephenson on the left side next to former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs. Second-round draft pick Mitch Morse will line up at center with big Vince Wilfork opposite him. Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff will be at right guard in his first NFL game, while former No. 1 overall draft pick Eric Fisher will start at right tackle.

That means 14 career starts at left tackle and none at center or right guard.

"It's a huge challenge," said Grubbs, the only player on the entire front who played in the same position for the entirety of training camp. "I think the most important thing for us will be film work, understand what they do as a defense as a whole."

In other words, focusing on Watt or Clowney could doom them.

The reason for that is Houston allows its pass rushers — Watt in particular — to line up just about anywhere on the line. Watt may settle in across from Fisher on the right side one snap, then head all the way to the quarterback's blind side for the next snap.

Everybody in the Chiefs' rejiggered front will get a chance to stop him.

"Very talented guy. Definitely have to prepare," said Fisher, who sprained an ankle early in training camp and only returned to practice this week. "But they have a great front seven. They do a lot of moving and stunts and games and blitzes. So there's a lot to prepare for."

Especially for the two guys who have never experienced a real NFL game.

Morse began training camp behind Eric Kush before quickly assuming the center job. But the former Missouri standout understands that facing the 325-pound Wilfork will be a lot different than taking on a defensive tackle from South Carolina or Georgia.

The learning curve has been even steeper for Duvernay-Tardiff.

The aspiring doctor played his college football at McGill in Canada, a level akin to Division II in the U.S., and spent all of last season trying to adjust. He likely didn't see the likes of Watt or Clowney playing college football north of the border.

"They're good up front. I mean, their whole defense is good," said Smith, the player who'd be most subjected to harm if there's a breakdown in the Kansas City offensive line. "They do a lot of different things present a lot of different looks. They do a lot of games, whatever you want to call them. It's a lot to defend from a protection standpoint."

It's a lot to take on for a front five just learning to play together.

NOTES: The Chiefs placed OL Paul Fanaika on IR and signed LB Dezman Moses, who had been waived Sunday to make room for TE Brian Parker. ... So much for the Chiefs getting an edge from Houston appearing on HBO's "Hard Knocks." Asked whether he'd watched the behind-the-scene show about training camp, Grubbs replied: "I hardly ever watch TV. And when the TV is on, it's on Disney."


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