When Kansas City selected Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft it wasn't an indictment against former Oklahoma offensive tackle Donald Stephenson. Chiefs management said it was a best-player-on-the-board situation.
But after the Chiefs drafted Fisher, and used the franchise tag to re-sign former first-round pick Branden Albert, Stephenson was relegated to being the No. 3 offensive tackle.
The Chiefs re-signing Albert was a sign the organization believes Stephenson needs more seasoning even though he started eight games as a rookie.
For now, Stephenson is injury insurance. In the Chiefs' 17-16 win Sunday over Dallas, Stephenson played two series when Albert left with a shoulder injury.
“I know my role on this team,” Stephenson said. “I work hard at what I do. When I'm in there I have to play like a starter and prove I'm worthy of being a starter in this league.”
A third-round pick in the 2012 draft, Stephenson showed promise but at times was exploited by veteran defensive ends. Stephenson was responsible for nine quarterback hurries, seven quarterback hits and five sacks.
“No question I have some things to work on, but I did a lot of things right last year,” Stephenson said. “This is a fast league. It took some getting used to, the speed of the game. Once you experience it you don't have to think as much, you can just go play.”
Last week's game against Dallas was an example Stephenson must raise his level of play. Stephenson was overmatched against Dallas' seven-time All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
While Stephenson was in the game Ware recorded a sack. Ware was so disruptive the Chiefs offense sputtered with two three-and-outs.
“It's tough sitting on the sidelines and if someone goes down it's all of a sudden, ‘Go in there and block DeMarcus Ware,'” Stephenson said. “But that's my job. I have to be ready.”
Fisher's arrival has pushed Stephenson to a reserve role, but he played 239 snaps last season as a rookie.
“That was huge,” Stephenson said. “It's all about experience in this league. To start some games means the world. The more you play the more the game slows down.”
First-year Chiefs coach Andy Reid said offensive linemen like Stephenson are invaluable over the course of a 17-week regular season grind.
“He plays an important position,” Reid said. “We're lucky we have Donald Stephenson. He can swing back and forth. If we needed, he could play guard for us. Donald gives us a little flexibility.”
Management evidently wasn't overly concerned with Stephenson. There were reports the Chiefs were close to trading Albert to Miami for a second-round pick. The deal fell through the second day of the draft when Oakland made a similar deal.
One factor that could work in Stephenson's favor is some decisions are based on salary cap numbers.