Just four years ago Laurent Duvernay-Tardif made a position switch from defensive to offensive line for the McGill Redmen. Last Sunday he was starting up front for the Kansas City Chiefs in their season opener, paving the way for Jamaal Charles and protecting Alex Smith from getting walloped by J.J. Watt or Vince Wilfork.
That 2011 decision to play on the other side of the football has led to an improbable journey for Duvernay-Tardif. The man more affectionately known as “Larry” quickly developed into one of the best blockers in Canadian university football. He was a two-time All-Canadian and won the J.P. Metras trophy as the most outstanding down lineman in CIS football after his senior season in 2013.
The much-deserved attention earned Duvernay-Tardif an invite to the 2014 East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, Fla.—an American showcase game for NFL prospects. Personnel men were intrigued by the big man’s raw athletic ability, and the Chiefs selected him 200th overall in the NFL Draft. The St. Hilaire, Que., native became just the second offensive linemen ever to be drafted from a CIS school.
After a year spent developing with the Chiefs, he earned a starting spot coming out of training camp to begin the 2015 season.
“Over the last couple weeks I had a feeling that was going to happen,” says Duvernay-Tardif. “I was the starter for the second and third pre-season games and I didn’t play in the fourth pre-season game—that was all an indicator that it was going to happen.”
Because he was with the team last year for the whole season, the routine of flying to a city, getting to the hotel and going to meetings on Saturday before game days was normal for Duvernay-Tardif. He’s not a person who stresses over many things, so on Sunday before facing the Houston Texans in his first NFL start the Canadian-born lineman went through his usual routine.
“Before the game we have a good idea of what the first 10 plays are going to be so you just focus on them. Coach [Andy] Reid has so much knowledge about football that he put us in the right mindset,” Duvernay-Tardif says. “I still have a lot to learn, but at the same time the best way to learn is to play. I think the coaches were confident that I was ready to be out there.”
The six-foot-five, 321-lb. Canadian rewarded their faith as he helped the Chiefs put up 330 total yards and 27 points against a stingy defence in a win over the Texans. He also graded out well individually, according to Pro Football Focus stats. Of the 66 guards who played at least 25 percent of their teams’ offensive snaps in Week 1, Duvernay-Tardif graded out in the top half, 28th overall. He allowed just one QB hurry and no sacks on 70 total plays.
The performance looks all the more impressive considering he was seeing a lot of Watt—the 2012 and 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year—in his first career start.
“J.J. Watt is probably one of the best of all-time, so there was a lot of pressure. For most of the game J.J. was actually coming towards my gap,” Duvernay-Tardif explains. “He’s a tremendous athlete—he has a lot of moves that he can use against you and he’s pretty good at feeling which way you are leaning to use that to his advantage. He’s a great player and it was a good challenge for me. I just went out there and thought about my fundamentals and technique to try and block him. I know I missed a couple blocks against him, but I made a couple good blocks against him.”
Duvernay-Tardif also got locked up with the six-foot-two, 325-lb. Wilfork, a two-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowler.
“I did OK against Vince Wilfork. He’s a pretty big human being,” Duvernay-Tardif says. “It’s a different mentality when you go against him. Instead of just trying to drive him down the field my focus was to try and get a good position so the running back could go by and I could put the extra pressure on him so he wasn’t able to make arm tackles.”
Beyond the guys on the opposite side of the line, he also had to contend with his first hostile crowd—71,776 people filled NRG Stadium in Houston for the Texans’ season-opener.
“The noise of the stadium forces you to be a better communicator,” he says. “The game seems faster because it’s loud.”
Thursday night he’ll get the start at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, traditionally one of the noisiest buildings in the league. Based on his Week 1 performance and everything he’s done to get here, you can safely expect it to be the first of many.