(TNS) — When the Chiefs claimed Bryan Witzmann off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys 14 months ago, they did so with the belief that he could be, at worst, a developmental swing tackle.
So Witzmann spent all year as a backup at tackle, getting most of his reps at both the left tackle and right tackle positions. Along the way, he did enough to pique the Chiefs’ interest in his ability to play other positions, specifically inside.
So when the Chiefs’ asked him to switch to left guard in the spring, and started giving him first-string reps there, the 27-year-old Witzmann — who had bounced around with the Texans, Saints and Cowboys before landing with the Chiefs — knew he’d better embrace the opportunity to finally earn a starting job.
“Obviously never playing guard, it was an adjustment initially in OTAs and the beginning of training camp,” Witzmann said.
Yet, on an offensive line that has seen its share of injuries — both center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have missed games — Witzmann has been a consistent presence at guard, earning every possible offensive snap this year.
He’s managed to do this, and hold on to the job, despite the fact Parker Ehinger — a fourth-round pick a year ago who started at the position until he suffered a season-ending knee injury last March — has been practicing since early September.
Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said the coaching staff has come to appreciate Witzmann’s toughness, size and strength over the season’s first eight games.
“He can move, and he’s real stout, strong,” Nagy said.
Though he’s athletic enough to be useful on zone runs and as a puller, Witzmann has enjoyed the close-quarters play at guard. At 6 feet, 7 inches and 320 pounds, he’s big enough to be a good option on man/gap plays, which require doubles at the point of the attack.
“When you can square off on a guy, with two guys just hitting him head on, that feels good,” Witzmann said.
A teaching moment for Witzmann came on Oct. 15, when he surrendered five quarterback hurries (according to Pro Football Focus) in a 19-13 loss to the Steelers, whose three down linemen — Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward — had their way with the Chiefs up front.
“He was thrown right into the mix as a starter, so there’s going to be some challenges you have,” Nagy said. “I know this — some of the fronts we’ve seen in the past eight weeks have been dominant, they’ve been tough.
“I think he’s done a great job holding his own, and it’s been great to have him on this offensive line.”
The Steelers game taught Witzmann a lot about the importance of hand placement and initial strike in pass protection. He’s also been working on his awareness in blitz pickup from second- and third-level players, not to mention footwork.
“At this level, it’s all about those little, precise things,” Witzmann said. “You’re going against a different type of defender (inside). The guys on the edge are a lot more speed. These guys inside are a lot more power. It’s just a different approach you take.”
His diligence in trying to improve paid off the next week, however, when he turned in his second clean sheet in pass protection in the Chiefs’ 31-30 loss to Oakland by failing to yield a single pressure or sack, according to PFF.
And on Sunday, he will try to post another clean performance when the Chiefs face his old team, the Cowboys, at 3:25 p.m. at AT&T Stadium.
“ I think I’m finally to a point where I had good feel and I trust what I’m seeing on the field,” Witzmann said. “I think I’ve settled in and got more confident.”