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The Kansas City Chiefs are set to start a familiar face along the offensive line in Week 17 — one that hasn’t played since Week 10 of the 2019 season.
When the Chiefs traded running back Carlos Hyde to the Houston Texans for offensive lineman Martinas Rankin ahead of the 2019 season, it proved to be a key move reinforcing depth at a position that would go through some attrition during the year. Injuries to Andrew Wylie and Eric Fisher would force Rankin into action at the left guard position, where he would start five games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Rankin hadn’t lived up to his draft standing with the Texans, but he turned the corner when he arrived in Kansas City. Before his injury, Rankin even thought that he was playing some of his best football.
“Yes, I definitely felt like I was progressing to really help this team do some big things,” Rankin told reporters on Friday. “When it happened I think that was probably one of the things that hurt me the most — the fact that I was just kind of really just starting to figure out that I could really be a dominant player in this league. That I could really contribute to a Super Bowl contender — a Super Bowl champion team.”
The road back to action for Rankin has been a long one. He began the 2020 offseason on the PUP list in Kansas City. The team would open his practice window in late October and activated him to the 53-man roster in early November. Still, Rankin sat on the roster waiting for an opportunity to get back on the field, despite injuries at the tackle position.
“It’s probably been a product of a couple of things,” Chiefs OL coach Andy Heck explained on Thursday. “Yeah, he’s had to work his way back in there, which he’s been doing a nice job of. I love Rank [Martinas Rankin], we got a chance to see him some last year as a player, we’re very excited about him as a player. He’s been working his tail off. And then, we’ve had guys that have been stepping in and doing a nice job. We’ve been having some success, and so we didn’t want to force anything when there wasn’t a need to. But it’s good to have Rank out there working this week, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Now, Rankin is as close to 100% as he has been during the course of his recovery. It hasn’t been an easy comeback, but he’s prepared to take this meaningful step forward in Week 17.
“I would say that I’m getting real, real close to it,” Rankin said. “It’s been a real long process, of course. But I’ve just been putting my head down and coming to work, just controlling the things that I can control. I’m just ready to go out there and put my best foot forward.”
Chiefs HC Andy Reid describes Rankin as “smart, tough and a good athlete.” However, the most impressive attribute in the recovery process has been his attitude. This injury has made him push himself, perhaps even harder than before the injury.
“My motivation to get back is just, I want to be better than I was even before the injury,” Rankin said. “Just keep pushing yourself because there’s a lot of people in the world who go through tougher things than getting hurt doing something that they love to do, like playing the sport that I play. That’s one thing I’ve always kept in mind. Just that there’s worse things in life, so I should just embrace the challenge ahead of me and just keep persevering. That’s — I feel the story of my life is — perseverance. You get knocked down, but you’ve got to keep getting up. That’s what I’m going to do and what I’m going to continue to do.”
Rankin should have an opportunity to start in Week 17. It’ll be his first game that he has started since November of 2019, back when he suffered his knee injury. He’ll have a chance to knock off some of the rust after not playing in a game for a full calendar year.
“I expect to get a lot of time,” Rankin said. “Maybe the whole game, so I’ll get a chance to go out there and continue to work toward being a great tackle or guard or whatever they want to put me at.”
Rankin doesn’t yet know where he’ll play on the offensive line against the Los Angeles Chargers. He played left guard in 2019 but is listed as a tackle on the team’s unofficial depth chart. He’ll be prepared to play either position.
“Coming into the league, that was one thing that I thought could help me is that I could be versatile across the board,” Rankin said. “There’s differences at the position, but the No. 1 thing is just understanding concept football. It’s a little different, of course, but that’s something that I kind of hang my hat on. The fact that I can be a dominant player at both positions — or any position honestly.”
No matter what happens this week, it will be an opportunity for Rankin to put his best foot forward on his path to a full recovery. He figures to be an important piece in Kansas City in the future and the Chiefs will certainly benefit from him getting out there to gain some confidence after his injury.
“Like I said, I’m just going to keep persevering,” Rankin said. “We’re all going to get knocked down at some point in life, so you can’t hang your head too long.”