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Chiefs must navigate attrition in trenches to repeat as Super Bowl champs

 Giants Chiefs Football
Posted at 5:10 PM, Feb 06, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The skill players get most of the NFL glory, but football games are more often won or lost in the trenches, where the big-bodied offensive and defensive linemen crash together snap after snap.

That presents an added challenge for the Kansas City Chiefs, who will try again Sunday to become the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champions since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.

The Chiefs are likely to be without one starting offensive linemen, left guard Joe Thuney, and also will be without two starting defensive linemen, tackle Derrick Nnadi and end Charles Omenihu, in Super Bowl LVIII against the San Francisco 49ers.

Thuney has played for five Super Bowl teams in his eight-year NFL career.

He’s never missed an offensive snap in the previous four appearances, including three with the Patriots and last year’s title with the Chiefs.

But Thuney hasn’t played since injuring his left pectoralis muscle late in Kansas City’s AFC Divisional Round win at Buffalo three weeks ago.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid didn’t sound optimistic Tuesday that Thuney would be available Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

“It’s a long shot,” Reid said.

The muscle simply needs more time to heal.

“It’s strength and making sure that he’s in a position to not get hurt,” Reid said when asked what progress would need to be made for him to play.

Center Creed Humphrey, who has spent his entire NFL career playing alongside Thuney, cautioned against ruling out the three-time Super Bowl champion quite yet.

“Joe’s a warrior,” Humphrey said. “You can never count him out. He’s as tough as they come, so he’s going to do everything he can.”

Nick Allegretti — a fifth-year veteran who’s started 17 career games, including this year’s AFC Championship Game and all three postseason games during the 2020 season — would be in line to start in Thuney’s place again if needed.

“Nick did a great job for us last week,” Humphrey said. “The amount of experience he has, the amount of time he’s been on this team in this system, it shows. He knows exactly what he needs to be doing, things like that, so he’s done a great job for us. He’s a huge part to our room, so it’s been awesome to have him.”

DL depth continues to be challenged

Things are a little more dicey on the defensive line, where Nnadi landed on injured reserve with an elbow injury and Omenihu has been ruled out with a torn ACL.

“Derrick Nnadi is a key to what we do inside and losing him is a big blow,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.

Fortunately, Kansas City has had a few games to adjust to Nnadi’s absence. He hasn’t played since injuring his elbow in the frigid Super Wild Card win against Miami on Jan. 13, but losing Omenihu, who spent the previous year and a half with the Niners before signing with the Chiefs in the offseason, is much more fresh.

A few plays after Omenihu sacked Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and forced a fumble in the AFC Championship Game, he went down with a non-contact injury and has since been ruled out for the Super Bowl.

“I’ll tell you, you don’t replace that height and that length that he (Omenihu) has but we’ll get guys to step in there,” Spangnuolo said.

Mike Pennel — an unsung hero of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV title run, when Kansas City rallied past San Francisco in the fourth quarter — has soaked up many of Nnadi’s reps, including playing more than half the defensive snaps against the Bills and more than one-third against the Ravens.

Malik Herring — who has seen his usage climb from 10% (Miami) to 16% (Buffalo) to 24% (Baltimore) during the playoffs, peaking in the AFC title game after Omenihu went down — figures to continue to play a bigger role.

“We’ve lost guys along the way and to your point, guys have stepped in,” Spagnuolo said. “I think that’s a reflection of the coaches — the assistant coaches, defensively — that do a great job with these players, even when they’re not expected to play in the game and then the players responding to it. We have a good group of guys that way, and we’ve needed it. We’ve gone through the season where we’ve lost guys here and there.”

Rookie first-round pick, Lee’s Summit native and former Kansas State star Felix Anudike-Uzomah also is expected to be active for the Super Bowl and see some reps, according to Spagnuolo. He was inactive for each of the first three playoff games.