Is Austin Reiter The Future At Center?

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The Chiefs interior line was not an area of strength in 2019. Dan dives into Austin Reiter, is he going to stick around at center?

Austin Reiter stepped into rather large shoes to fill when Mitch Morse left for Buffalo to become the highest-paid center in the NFL. The Chiefs knew they couldn’t offer Morse that contract with the cap restrictions they were already looking at, the ones to come with Jones and Mahomes, and the concussion history Morse had. They also liked what Reiter brings to the table and thought he played well in the four games he started in 2018 in Mitch’s absence. Morse is one of the best centers in the NFL and Reiter was a seventh-round draft pick in 2015 without much starting experience; there was always going to be a drop off in play from one to the next, we just didn’t know exactly what that would look like.

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Like all offensive lines, continuity and chemistry are very important to have sustained success. The Chiefs didn’t have much of that until the ladder part of the season and I expected Reiter to struggle with a revolving door at left guard. Three different players were to Reiter’s left throughout the course of the season. For a first full-time starter at center it wasn’t the best condition for success. I was very critical of Reiter during the season, rather outspoken about his contact strength being an issue in his performance. I wasn’t wrong about that area of his game, he gets overwhelmed with pure strength when heads-up against it.

This is the biggest problem area for Reiter as it pertains to the run game, he is susceptible to raw strength when in his immediate gap of blocking responsibility. Oftentimes, he can overcome some of it if he’s asked to block down or help block to the second level, but when he’s one on one with a defensive tackle he doesn’t get much, if any, movement on a regular basis. The long arm from the defender is one thing that he has no answer for, he gets lifted up by the tackle then held there with one arm so the defender can locate the football and make a play. He just doesn’t have the ability to move stronger defenders when their goal is to be gap pluggers. So, on short-yardage plays where the defense knows the run up the gut is coming, this is a result more often than not. 

This offensive scheme isn’t built on the power run game, which is a good thing for Reiter, but understanding leverage and getting hands in the proper place to at least stalemate with a stronger defender can make a big difference in the results. Andy Heck preaches being able to move guys stronger than you with the proper handwork and leverage. With the way this offseason is going, I’d hope Reiter got in the weight room, assuming he has access to one, to get some of that strength up to implement on tackles for the upcoming season. As I said, this scheme is about opening up smaller holes, sometimes more than one, and letting the running back find them. Many defenses run 4-3 alignments which help Reiter do what he does best, slip and scoop.

The term slip and scoop just refers to the double to the linebacker, and as often as defensive formations lend themselves to the 4-3 variety, Reiter will do this a lot. He has the responsibility of helping the guard take over the block fully and then getting on a linebacker. This is a great example of it because not only does Reiter help take out the tackle, he gets on the linebacker as soon as he flashes back toward the play and immediately turns him inside walling him off from the play. There’s no way for Reiter to know exactly where the ball carrier is at the moment, but the direction the backer was going tells him all he needs to know. Turning his hips to the play and shutting down that linebacker while putting him on the ground is fun to watch and something Reiter does a good job of, most of the time.

Keeping a linebacker in front of you as an offensive lineman isn’t an easy task and I wouldn’t expect any lineman to be 100% successful at it. They are getting more athletic and fast which means that when you get the opportunity to shut them down, it has to happen quickly. Reiter does show hesitation when presented with more than one option to block at the second level, improving his pre-snap decision-making will fix most of that and allow him to play faster, opening up more holes in the second level. 

This team isn’t about “establishing the run” on offense and they make no apologies for it. They have the best quarterback on the planet and want to throw the football, so protecting him is the number one priority. Andy Reid has put a premium on offensive lineman that are athletic and can recover in pass protection. Eric Fisher is a prime example of that, he may not be the most technically proficient tackle like Schwartz is, but he recovers extremely well which helps him when he gets beaten. Reiter is taken from the same mold, he has quick feet and he’s quite athletic for a 300-pound center.

This may be one of my favorite snaps from the five games of his I watched, and it has to do with fast recovery and leverage. This is an instance where he’s faced with a defensive tackle lined up directly in front of him, situations that haven’t been kind to him, but the tackle is going to try and finesse his way around Reiter. He attacks the A gap to Reiter’s left and attempts to come back around to the opposite A gap, but Reiter doesn’t fall for it. When the tackle makes his move, Reiter gets underneath the side of the defender and proceeds to drive him to the ground through his own teammates. Getting that handle while the defender made an attempt to get to the opposite A gap gave Reiter all of the leverage needed to plant him on the ground.

Being a center where most of the defensive fronts you see are even fronts, more often than not, he won’t have a rusher lined up directly in front of him. He has to be good enough helping and aware of where a rusher could come free off of another lineman. Reiter generally has good timing and awareness in these attempts to thwart the plans of a rusher trying to get free. It doesn’t have to be for long, like in the clip, but it does enough to buy Mahomes that extra second to get the ball away. That’s all he needs to do and he diagnoses these situations well.

I’ve talked about his issues with strength and how he can overcome it with technique, there are flashes of him doing just that and they are pretty good reps. This one comes to mind because not only is he continuously attempting to re-establish leverage with handwork, but he gets to the hop step when he’s feeling the bull rush and he’s trying to counter it that way. These are both great ways of combating a bull rush and if he can find a way to work them into his pass sets when faced with a bull rush, he will become more successful in keeping Mahomes clean. 

He only “gave up” two sacks on the season, but was more of a help blocker in 2019. The Chiefs want to be more pass-oriented, and for that to continue there are some areas that Reiter needs to shape up. It was his first season as a full starter, so understanding how to read a defense and identify where a blitz could come from will hopefully take a step forward with more film watching this offseason since there isn’t much else to do. Pre-snap reads and decisions are extremely important for a center and Reiter needs some fine-tuning to take a step forward in 2020. This is more of what I am referring to.

The Vikings are going to overload the right side of the Chiefs offensive line and bring more than they can handle on the surface. This is something Reiter should identify and make alterations to his protections. Instead, he steps toward his left where Rankin should be in charge of taking over that block and Reiter should be stepping to his right to help pick up blocks to allow the right side to do their best to pick up the blitz. This leaves three Vikings defenders coming around Schwartz and only two blockers in Schwartz and Darrel Williams. Moore just gets the throw off, but Reiter didn’t shift the blocking to help account for the blitz.

If he can get the film down and start to see things on the field like blitzes, he can help the whole offensive line. The line got better as a group when Wisnewski was inserted into the left guard spot, I think his veteran presence along with experience at center, helped Reiter become more comfortable. That with Mahomes getting healthier and more effective made defenses less likely to blitz. Reiter’s job became easier in pass protection as a result. Until the Super Bowl, anyway. 

I expected his tape to be much worse than what I found, but I did look a little deeper into the season to get a better idea of how he adjusted and played after he became more comfortable. There are clear issues in the run game with getting movement and finding the right leverage points at a consistent rate, but he does well to get to the second level and has the knowledge to turn his hips away from the play to wall off who he’s attempting to block. He’s a much better pass protector than I thought and with a few consistencies in taking on bull rushes, I think he could become an above-average center.

He is 28 years old and going into his second season as a starter could be a make or break season for him. The Chiefs actually have quite a few interior offensive linemen on the staff and his direct competition in Nick Allegretti could push him to be better or look to take his job. The competition will be fierce and will hopefully get the best out of both players, but if Reiter isn’t careful I think he could lose his job to Allegretti. Does he have the tools to be successful for this team? I believe he does, but noted improvement has to take place or he could be looking at a shortened stint as a starting center for this team.

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06/25/2020 11:49 am

Dan Harms, you are a machine! Thanks for all the film review you do for us!

Severely Concussed
Severely Concussed
06/25/2020 11:09 am

Reiter is adequate, but not somebody we should tie up any money in.

Reply to  Daniel Harms
06/25/2020 3:09 pm

Perhaps not an excellent player, but sounds like an excellent placeholder.

Nate Christensen
06/25/2020 9:51 am

I’m still sad New Orleans took Cesar Ruiz

I may never get over it unfortunately

Severely Concussed
Severely Concussed
Reply to  Nate Christensen
06/25/2020 11:07 am

We snaked Mahomes from them, so I guess I can get over it.

Nate Christensen
Reply to  Severely Concussed
06/25/2020 11:40 am

I’d trade Pat for Cesar


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