2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Washington Redskins

Overview:
The Washington Redskins bounced back in 2007 with nine wins after a difficult 2006 season. The improvement was mainly due to the defense that was one of the worst in 2006 but was one of the ten best in the NFL in 2007. The offense had to deal with a lot of injuries on the line and allowed 29 sacks, ten more than the previous year while the rushing offense went from one of the best in the league to below average.

At left tackle the Redskins can count on one of the best in the NFL in Chris Samuels. Samuels was the third overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and has only missed four starts with the Redskins since being drafted. At 6’5” and 310 lbs, he is a punishing blocker in the running game and has vastly improved his lateral mobility. Samuels is one of the best run blocking left tackles in the NFL and is still above average in pass protection. He has not shown any signs of slowing down even though he will be 31 years old at the start of the season and is the main reason why this offensive line did not totally collapse last season. Samuels has been named to a total of five Pro Bowl teams including the last three years and should continue to perform at a high level for a few more years. On the right side, the Redskins hope to have Jon Jansen return as the starter after he suffered a season-ending leg injury in the first week of the 2007 season. When healthy, Jansen is very dangerous as a run blocker because of his strength and good technique. The problem with Jansen is that he has never been very athletic and now at 32 years old and coming off a leg injury his feet are likely to slow down even more. It remains to be seen if Jansen can still offer adequate protection in the passing game but he is still a very good run blocker. Competing with Jansen for the right tackle job will be Stephon Heyer. Heyer was signed as an undrafted free agent last season and became the starter on the right side when both Jansen and Wade went down with injuries. He has very nice size for a tackle at 6’6” and 320 lbs but the Redskins averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in the five games he started. He still has to improve his technique and find a way to make up for his slower feet in pass protection but overall he showed some promise as a rookie. He should continue to improve as he gains experience and will look much better with a better guard on his left. The 31 year old Todd Wade will also provide depth at tackle. Wade has had injury problems for the past four seasons and cannot be relied upon for an extended period of time. He is still a decent backup with pretty good run blocking skills but he is limited to the right tackle position.

Pete Kendall will return as the starting left guard for the second consecutive season with the Redskins. Kendall was a Seahawks first round pick in 1996 and has since started with four different teams. Kendall will be 35 years old when the season begins so he is starting to slow down but his excellent technique and awareness are allowing him to extend his career. Kendall was brought in a few weeks before the season began in a trade with the New York Jets and did a good job considering the circumstances. He is an effective run blocker but lacks strength at only 280 lbs. If he can stay healthy, Kendall should improve this season with a full off-season to learn the offense. Starting on the right side will be the 32 year old Randy Thomas who suffered a triceps injury last season which kept him out for most of the year. Thomas is a very good run blocker at 6’5” and 320 lbs and can do a pretty good job in pass protection as well. His health is a concern but he is definitely an asset for this line if he stays healthy and his absence is the main reason why the running game took a big hit last season. The 33 year old Jason Fabini provides depth at guard and is a pretty good backup because of his versatility to play most positions on the line. Fabini played in 13 games last season in replacement of Randy Thomas at right guard but he is starting to slow down and struggled in both pass and run blocking last season. He could still be a decent backup for a few games a year but does not have the physical abilities to play 13 games like he did last season. The Redskins added a little youth to the line by selecting Chad Rinehart in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Rinehart is strong and smart but may take some time to adjust to the NFL game coming from a small school. His footwork and athleticism needs to be improved to pull to the outside but he is very effective when run blocking inside. Rinehart will probably not be ready to come in this year but could be Kendall’s replacement at left guard next season.

Starting at center for the fourth consecutive season will be the 30 year old Casey Rabach. Rabach was signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Ravens and has only missed one start in the last four seasons. He has adequate size for a center at 295 lbs and he has excellent awareness. His importance on the line was shown when he missed the week 7 game last season against the Cardinals and the Redskins averaged only 2.6 yards per carry. The absence of Thomas last year made Rabach much more vulnerable but he should look better this year.

2008 Outlook:
The Redskins line had to deal with injuries to its two starters on the right side of the line for most of the season and yet did a pretty good job. The problem with this line is that all five starters and two of the backups are over 30 years old and the average age of the starters will be 32 years old when the season begins. For the past few seasons, injuries have been a concern for this line and unfortunately will likely continue to be one this season. The good news is that things could not be much worse than last year because the two best run blockers on this line in Thomas and Jansen missed almost the entire season. The Redskins have pretty good depth with Heyer, Wade, Rinehart and Fabini and will be fine as long as Samuels stays healthy. Overall the line should improve in run blocking, especially if Jansen is the starter at right tackle but could take a small hit in pass protection with the veterans starting to lose some mobility.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Tennessee Titans

Overview:
The Tennessee Titans had their best season since 2003 with ten wins in 2007. It was a great improvement mainly due to the defense which went from the worst in the NFL in yards allowed to the fifth best. The offense ranked 21st in the NFL in yards of offense but the rushing game took a step back with only 3.9 yards per carry, down from 4.7 in the previous year. The Titans lost both of its starting guards in Jacob Bell and Benji Olson this off-season so there are some question marks going into the season.

At left tackle, 2005 second round pick Michael Roos will be playing his fourth season as a starter. Since being drafted, Roos has not missed a single start at tackle playing both on the left and right side in his first three seasons but the left tackle position is definitely his now. Roos is a perfect fit for the left side because of his 6’7” and 315 lbs frame and his excellent mobility and footwork. Those skills make him one of the five best pass protecting tackles in the NFL but he is only an average run blocker. Roos is underrated around the league because he is not the most explosive lineman but his pass protecting abilities definitely make him one of the ten best tackles in the league. Starting on the right side is another good tackle in David Stewart. Stewart has a very similar frame at 6’7” and 320 lbs and has started 30 games at right tackle since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He is a much better fit on the right side because he does not have great lateral mobility but is very strong and intense. Stewart is definitely an above average run blocker but remains below average in pass protection. Although he will never be a Pro Bowl caliber tackle, he will continue to improve and will be a good tackle in this league for several years. Daniel Loper is the main backup at tackle. He was a fifth round pick in 2005 but has not seen much NFL action other than on special teams. He has the versatility to play both guard and tackle but his upside is limited because of his lack of mobility. He would probably be a decent backup at guard or right tackle but he has not seen much action so it is hard to evaluate him. The other backup tackle is last year’s seventh round pick Mike Otto. Otto spent the last season on the practice squad but he is very intelligent and had a lot of experience at left tackle in college so he should adjust pretty well to the NFL. He has to get stronger to be effective in the NFL but has good pass blocking technique and could be a starter in the NFL some day.

The Titans signed Jake Scott from the Indianapolis Colts in the off-season to replace either Benji Olson who recently announced his retirement or Jacob Bell who signed with the Rams as a free agent. Scott will likely start at right guard but is capable of playing the left guard position as well or even the right tackle position. He has not missed a game in three seasons for the Colts and was a key part of their offensive line. Scott is excellent in pass protection because of his footwork and technique but is not very strong at 6’5” and only 295 lbs so his run blocking is slightly below average. His great intensity makes up in part for his lack of strength and also allows him to pull to the outside to block. Overall Scott is a very smart and dependable guard who will make few mistakes and will be a nice replacement for Bell or Olson. The left guard position will however not look as good with Leroy Harris or Eugene Amano. Harris was the team’s fourth round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and was dressed for five games last season when Mawae and Olson were injured. Harris has the versatility to play the guard and center positions but he would be much more suited in a backup role. He is tough and hard-working but has very little mobility so will have trouble pulling to the outside and will have trouble against big athletic NFL defensive linemen. Harris’s competition will come from Eugene Amano who started five games last season in replacement of Olson at guard and Mawae at center. Amano has been a backup in the NFL since being drafted in the seventh round in 2004 and this may be his best chance to become a starter.

Starting at center for the third consecutive season with the Titans will be the 6’4” and 290 lbs Kevin Mawae. Mawae is a veteran who spent most of his career with the New York Jets until he was released in 2005. He was named to six Pro Bowls from 1999 to 2004 but at 37 years old, injuries are starting to slow him down. The Titans averaged only 3.0 yards per carry in the two games that Mawae missed late in the season so he is definitely an asset for this line. Mawae is pretty good both in run blocking and pass protection but the Titans have to hope that Amano and Harris are ready to step in because at that age, Mawae’s health is always a question mark.

2008 Outlook:
The Titans line will need to form chemistry quickly in training camp after losing both of its starting guards in the off-season. However, last season in the three games that Olson was injured, the Titans averaged 4.6 yards per carry against defenses that allowed 4.4 yards per carry on average. In those three games, Amano was starting at right guard so the only change would be Jake Scott replacing Jacob Bell. Scott is very similar to Bell in terms of skills as both are excellent in pass protection but average at best in run blocking. Depth is however a big concern for this line with Loper, Otto and Harris having no NFL experience. Overall this line should be similar to last year and might improve slightly if everyone stays healthy but depth is a big concern and Vince Young will see a lot of pressure if Scott or either of the tackles goes down with an injury.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Overview:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started rebuilding their offensive line in 2006 by drafting current starting RG Davin Joseph in the first round and RT Jeremy Trueblood in the second. They continued the process last off-season by signing LT Luke Petitgout from the Giants and drafting LG Arron Sears in the second round. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Petitgout suffered a season-ending knee injury in week 4. Arron Sears on the other hand had a very solid season and allowed the Buccaneers to run for over 1,800 yards and a solid 4.2 yards per carry. The front office continued spending big money on their offensive line this off-season by making Jeff Faine, formerly of the Saints, the highest paid center in the NFL. There is no question that Faine was an overpayment but the center position was a big weakness for the team last year and this move had to be made.

One of the most interesting battles in camp is likely to be at left tackle between the injury-prone Luke Petitgout and former undrafted free agent Donald Penn. In only his second NFL season, Penn surprised many people and surpassed expectations. Penn is a decent pass blocker but he lacks strength and technique so often gets pushed into the backfield. However, Penn often needed help from the TE last season and the Bucs became reluctant to run to the left side after Petitgout went down. If Petitgout manages to stay healthy, he should be the starting left tackle but is a big question mark having only played 13 games in the past two seasons. Petitgout has the abilities to be one of the best run blocking tackles in the NFL and can hold his own in pass protection as well. However, last season the Buccaneers yards per carry average was about the same with Petitgout and Penn which is a sign that Petitgout’s back injuries have slowed him down and he is not the same he used to be. Petigout will likely win the job but the left tackle position will remain a question mark because Petitgout will be 32 years old when the season begins and Penn is definitely not a long term solution. The right side is in much better shape with the 24 year old Jeremy Trueblood. At 6’8” and 320lbs, Trueblood is a very powerful run blocker and uses his long wingspan to keep pass rushers in front of him. He is entering his third season in the NFL so still has plenty of time to improve his footwork. He struggles in pass protection against speedy rushers but should only improve over the next few years. The Buccaneers also selected Jeremy Zuttah in the third round of the NFL Draft, a player that many think will be the left tackle of the future for the team. Zuttah has the versatility to play any position on the line but will have to build-up his strength to be effective in the NFL. He is a very tough lineman and an excellent pass protector because of his quickness but will likely struggle to open holes in the running game until he becomes stronger.

At left guard, the Buccaneers are in very good shape with the young Arron Sears. Sears was the most consistent lineman for the team in 2007 and was rewarded by being named to the NFL All-Rookie team. Sears has good footwork and is a very smart blocker with versatility to play the tackle position as well. Sears still has things to learn as a pass blocker but his strength and mobility make him an excellent run blocker who will open up holes play after play for the running backs. On the right side, the Buccaneers have another very young guard in Davin Joseph. Joseph is also pretty athletic and strong but will make a lot of mental mistakes. The former first round pick Joseph has the physical attributes to become an excellent guard in the NFL but has to show the willingness to learn. The versatile Anthony Davis will provide depth at the guard position. Davis is also a very big and strong lineman at 6’4” and 320lbs. Davis was the starting left tackle in both 2005 and 2006 so is definitely very capable of providing depth at both the guard and tackle positions. Dan Buenning will provide depth at both guard and center and could compete for a starting job if he remains healthy which has not been the case in the past.

At center, the Buccaneers will be counting on the 27 year old Jeff Faine who was signed as a free agent from New Orleans. Faine is a smaller sized center at only 290lbs but his excellent footwork and technique make him a good pass blocker. However, Faine is a below average run blocker who is unlikely to create holes by himself in the running game.

2008 Outlook:
The Buccaneers offensive line is a very young and powerful line which will open up big holes in the running game. The return of Luke Petitgout can only help this line as it will create competition on the left side. Pass protection was a problem for this line last season and Jeff Faine will definitely help in that department. Faine is a big improvement over John Wade and will give Garcia a lot more time to find his receivers. The Buccaneers will open the season with at least four of its linemen at 27 years of age or under and possibly five depending on who wins the battle at left tackle. It will be important for this line to gel together quickly but Faine was a leader for the line in New Orleans and should help this young group play well as a unit. Overall, this line remains much better at run blocking than pass blocking but there is no reason why this young group shouldn’t improve in 2008.

Updates:
August 4, 2008 – Luke Petitgout is still recovering from last season’s knee injury and Donald Penn continues to improve at left tackle in Petitgout’s absence. The line gave up 30 sacks in 12 games with Penn as opposed to 6 in 4 games with Penn. Penn should be better this season if Petitgout is not ready to go and Jeff Faine is also an upgrade over John Wade in pass protection.

August 20, 2008 – Starting RG Davin Joseph is expected to miss about two months because of a broken foot so could be out until about week six. Third round pick Jeremy Zuttah will replace Joseph in the starting lineup. This is a downgrade for the Bucs interior run blocking but Joseph will be back before the end of the year and many teams will suffer injuries like these throughout the year. The Buccaneers also cut Luke Petitgout which means Donald Penn who replaced Petitgout last year will start.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – St. Louis Rams

Overview:
The St. Louis Rams offense led by Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson, which averaged over 360 yards of total offense in 2006, averaged under 300 yards and ranked 28th in the league in points scored in 2007. The main reason for that downfall was an injury-depleted offensive line where Alex Barron is the only starter that was able to play all 16 regular season games. Coming into the season, the Rams offensive line was considered pretty deep with seven capable starters but no team can survive with four of its starting offensive linemen missing considerable time.

At tackle, the Rams still have one of the best to ever play the position in Orlando Pace. Pace was named to seven straight Pro Bowls from 1999 to 2005 and had only missed nine games in nine seasons with the Rams until 2006. In 2006, Pace suffered a serious triceps injury halfway through the season and was placed in injured reserve. Last season, Pace suffered a shoulder injury in the first half of the season opener which required surgery and he was once again placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. The good news for him is that the injury occurred early in the season and he will have a full training camp to work with the team and will be ready when the season begins. Pace says he is currently feeling as good as he ever has at 6’7” and 320 lbs. He is dominant as a run blocker and a good pass blocker but has not played much football in over a year and a half so remains a question mark for the 2008 season. On the right side will be the 25 year old Alex Barron who was the Rams first round selection in 2005 out of Florida State. He is quite athletic for a 6’7” and 315 lbs player and has a very large wingspan which he uses to his advantage. The downside with Barron is that he lacks focus which leads to a number of false start penalties and has even been called out by Marc Bulger. He is a decent pass blocker but will struggle against speedy rushers and is a poor run blocker because of his lack of intensity. Barron has all the tools to be an excellent tackle in this league but he will need to step up his play. In case of an injury to Pace, Barron would make the switch to left tackle as he did last year and his replacement on the right side would probably be third round pick John Greco out of Toledo. Greco is strong and has excellent awareness but his short arms and slow feet may hurt him in the NFL which is why he may eventually move to guard. Brandon Gorin would be the other option; the veteran was signed last season after Orlando Pace went down with an injury and made eight starts at right tackle.

At guard, the Rams were able to sign Jacob Bell from the Tennessee Titans to a six-year deal. Bell is a very smart and intense player who will never give up. He has worked a lot to become stronger but he will never be a top run blocker. His agility and quick feet make him a very good pass protector which will definitely help give Bulger some more time to find his receivers. On the right side should be Richie Incognito, a 6’3” and 330 lbs guard who missed most of the season due to a knee injury. It was the second season-ending knee injury that Incognito suffered in only his third NFL season which could be cause for concern. When healthy, Incognito is a very good blocker because of his great strength and especially his intensity. He has been known to lose his cool at times and is occasionally overaggressive on plays but with more experience he will likely become more controlled and a better player.

The center position is a little more complicated with at least two and possibly three players battling for the starting position. The leading candidate is Brett Romberg, a former undrafted free agent who made his first NFL start with the Rams in 2006. He is not very big at 6’2” and 300 lbs but is pretty athletic and was quite impressive last season. He will however get pushed into the backfield by big defensive linemen and remains a below average blocker in both the running and passing game. His competition will come from Mark Setterstrom, a seventh round pick who has been working out at center in the off-season to create some competition for Romberg. He impressed many in his first two seasons and because of his good work ethic he will continue to improve. Setterstrom could also compete for the starting position at right guard but it is more likely that he will either start at center or be the backup at both the guard and center positions. Dustin Fry will likely provide depth at the center position, the 2006 fifth round pick out of Clemson is another hard working player who is much better as a run blocker than a pass blocker.

2008 Outlook:
The Rams line had an injury-filled 2007 season and cannot be any worse than they were last season. There were so many injuries last season that it is very difficult to predict how these players will react in 2008. The Rams were missing at least two starters in every week in 2007 so there are no statistics that can be looked at to determine how this group of five will perform together. The right side of this line remains pretty weak with Incognito, either Romberg or Setterstrom and Barron but if Pace can remain healthy, the left side could be very solid with him and Bell. If healthy, this line is better than it was in 2006, a season in which the Rams averaged 4.3 yards per carry and gave up 49 sacks. Since 1999, the Rams have given up at least 40 sacks in every season so it is difficult to expect any different this season even with the addition of a solid pass blocker in Bell but the running game will improve and should be above the league average of 4.0 yards per carry once again.

Updates:
August 4, 2008 – The battle in camp is at center between Brett Romberg and Richie Incognito. It’s wide open right now but if Incognito loses he could still start at right guard ahead of Setterstrom. A healthy Pace and the addition of Bell would make this line much better in pass protection but the run blocking will not be as good as many expect it to be.

August 20, 2008 – Mark Setterstrom and Brandon Gorin have been placed on injured reserve and are done for the year. Neither was supposed to start but the line now has even less depth.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Seattle Seahawks

Overview:
The Seattle Seahawks had one of the most dangerous running games in football in 2005 but have been well below average since then. The main reason for the struggles is the loss of Steve Hutchinson who was signed by the Vikings in 2006 when they offered him a contract that contained a poison pill. The contract would have forced the Seahawks to guarantee the entire 49 million offered by the Vikings because he was not the highest paid lineman on the team. The Seahawks ranked 22nd in the league in yards per carry with only 3.8 and 19th in the league with 37 sacks allowed.

The tackle position remains a strength for the Seahawks with the two veterans Walter Jones and Sean Locklear returning. Walter Jones has been named to the Pro Bowl team seven straight times and is still considered one of the best in the NFL at 34 years old. Jones has a big frame at 6’5” and 325 lbs and is a very powerful blocker. Jones has lost some of his quickness but he is still very athletic for a lineman and has excellent technique. He still has a few years left in him but the Seahawks will have to find a replacement for him sooner rather than later even though Jones says he wants to play out the last four years of his contract. Sean Locklear was the third round pick by the Seahawks in 2004 and has developed rapidly into a very good tackle. He is an excellent pass blocking tackle but has to build more strength in order to be an effective run blocker. The Seahawks were one of the worst in the league when running to the right side and Locklear was one of the reasons for those struggles. Floyd Womack, a fourth round pick in 2001 was resigned to provide depth at the tackle position. He has never managed to stay healthy but his versatility to play any of the tackle or guard positions make him a valuable asset. The Seahawks also signed Kyle Williams out of USC as an undrafted free agent but he is unlikely to have much impact.

At guard, the Seahawks have finally found a capable replacement for Steve Hutchinson in Mike Wahle. Wahle was released by the Carolina Panthers in order to save cap space and signed by the Seahawks to a five-year deal. Wahle is a very good run blocker but will occasionally struggle against big defensive tackles because of his relatively low weight of 305 lbs for a 6’6” lineman. Holmgren is a big fan of Wahle after drafting him with the Packers in 1998. Although he is not the Pro Bowl player he was in 2005, Wahle is still a big upgrade for this line. Starting at right guard will be the 24 year old Rob Sims who will make the move from left guard. Sims is a pretty good pass blocker but missed a lot of blocks last season and it was very obvious that he still has a lot to learn in Holmgrem’s scheme. The move to right guard is likely to be a good thing for him but he will have to be much more powerful in his run blocking if he wants to have success in the NFL. The 38 year old Chris Gray will return to the team as backup for both guard positions as well as the center position. Gray started all 16 regular season games in 2007 and although he is too old to be a solid blocker week after week, he will be a good backup who has a lot to teach to the younger linemen.

Former first round pick Chris Spencer will be returning as the starting center for the second consecutive season. Spencer has incredible strength for a center but his lack of experience has been exploited by much smarter NFL defensive linemen. He is a much better run blocker than a pass blocker and has the speed and strength to get to the second level as a run blocker. Spencer should continue to improve as he learns the NFL game and should look better in 2008 with Wahle on his left side.

2008 Outlook:
The Seahawks line had a very difficult season in 2007 but things should be slightly better in 2008. Mike Wahle is a nice upgrade over the now 38 year old Gray at guard. Wahle was very important for the Panthers in 2006 as they averaged only 3.5 yards per carry in the three games that he missed as opposed to 4.1 in the 13 that he played. The Seahawks however failed to address the need for a younger tackle in the draft and it could very well hurt them this season if any of the linemen are injured for an extended period if time. This line has three young linemen in Locklear, Spencer and Sims who should all continue to improve but the Seahawks will have to hope that Jones can keep up his solid play. The left side now looks quite strong in run blocking and Holmgren will likely look to take advantage of that. Overall the line should be better and could be above average in the running game depending on the play of the new running backs but will remain average at best in pass blocking.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – San Francisco 49ers

Overview:
The San Francisco 49ers finished tied for last place in 2007 with 55 sacks allowed but were a little better in the running game with a slightly above league average 4.1 yards per carry. The 49ers made a big move in the 2007 NFL Draft by trading their fourth round pick in 2007 as well as a first round pick in 2008 in order to select Joe Staley at the 28th spot. Staley was a very solid selection but the 2008 first round pick turned into the 7th overall pick which in hindsight seems like a very steep price. This line underwent major changes in the off-season and it is one of the hardest to evaluate with center Eric Heitmann being the only player returning to the same position that he played in 2007. Starting RG Justin Smiley signed with the Miami Dolphins in the off-season and starting LG Larry Allen is expected to announce his retirement.

At tackle, the 49ers can count on 2007 first round pick Joe Staley who is likely to move back to his natural LT position, and the oft-injured Jonas Jennings who should move to the right side of the line. This move is likely to pay off for the team as it is difficult to count on a player who has missed 27 of the 48 regular season games since signing with the team to protect Alex Smith’s blind side. Staley was a tight end in his freshman year and managed to become much stronger without losing much speed. He is an excellent pass blocking tackle because of his great footwork and quickness which is the main reason why he should be a better fit on the left side. His run blocking is below average for an NFL tackle but he should improve in that area as he is a very hard worker willing to do anything in order to become a better player. On the right side will be Jonas Jennings, a very strong tackle at 6’3” and 330 lbs. Jennings has lost some speed and recently underwent surgery on his ankle but he is one of the best players on the line when healthy.

The guard position will be totally changed in 2008 with both starters from 2007 leaving the team. The very versatile Adam Snyder is expected to start at left guard for the 49ers in 2008. He replaced Jonas Jennings at left tackle after he went down with an ankle injury and also has starts at right guard and left guard since being drafted by the Niners in 2005. Snyder is a good backup but is not likely someone the 49ers want to count on as a starter. For that reason, the 49ers selected Chilo Rachal with their second round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Rachal will bring very stiff competition and many expect him to win the job in training camp. He is a very big and strong blocker at 6’5” and 315lbs but lacks technique and will struggle against quicker defensive linemen. He is a good run blocker who should open up holes in the running game and could start right away after facing some excellent opponents in the Pac-10. David Bass, second round pick in 2005, is expected to start on the right side. Baas replaced Justin Smiley after he went down with an injury in week 9 and started the last eight games of the regular season. The Niners averaged 4.0 yards per carry with Baas in the lineup and 4.2 with Smiley in the lineup while the sack totals were also very similar. Baas however suffered an injury in the spring and is likely to miss most of training camp which could allow Snyder to keep his job at left guard and Rachal to win the job on the right side. Jeb Terry will provide depth at guard after being signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tony Wragge will also return as a backup but neither is expected to see much action.

Eric Heitmann will return as the starting center for a third consecutive season after playing at guard in his first few NFL seasons. Heitmann suffered a broken leg at the end of the 2006 season which seemed to bother him throughout the season. He is a below average center who will open up holed in the running game but hit lack of mobility make him a weakness for this line in pass protection. The 49ers were evidently concerned about his play and drafted Cody Wallace out of Texas A&M in the fourth round. Wallace is a very smart player with decent size but his slow footwork could cause him problems against much faster NFL defensive linemen. Heitmann is likely to retain his starting job and improve his play now that he is fully recovered from his injury but Wallace will push him and could win the job in a year or two.

2008 Outlook:
There were quite a few changes made to the 49ers line in the off-season and it is difficult to predict how the players will react and if they will build a chemistry. First, the loss of Justin Smiley should not be too difficult to overcome since Baas started the final eight games and his play was very similar to Smiley’s. The tackle position should be improved with Staley moving to his more natural position and Jennings would be a big upgrade over Snyder if he does play but either way it is better to be weak on the right side than on the left side like in 2007. This leaves the loss of Larry Allen as the only one that could really hurt this team. Allen was a leader in the locker room and the team averaged only 4.4 yards per carry in the five games that he missed in 2006 as opposed to 5.3 in the 11 that he played. His performance was however decreasing and he was one of the reasons for the 55 sacks allowed in 2007. Overall, the line should be much better in pass protection than it was in 2007 because of Joe Staley making the move to the left side but the running game could see a slight decrease in performance because of the loss of Larry Allen as a run blocker.

Updates:
August 4, 2008 – Starting right guard David Baas suffered a torn pectoral and will likely miss the rest of training camp but should be back for the season opener. The 49ers waived Jeb Terry who was signed in the off-season to provide depth at guard. This line is much improved in pass protection but we are very concerned about the run blocking without Smiley and Allen.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – San Diego Chargers

Overview:
The San Diego Chargers offense faced a lot of challenges entering the 2007 season with an entirely new coaching staff after the firing of Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer and the departure of Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron for Miami. The offense managed to rank in the top five for points scored for the fourth consecutive season but was surprisingly only 20th in yards of offense. This had a lot to do with the team having the best takeaway / giveaway ratio in the NFL. The offense should only improve this season with a second season under Head Coach Norv Turner and Offensive Coordinator Clarence Shelmon.

The Chargers will once again have 2006 second round pick Marcus McNeill protecting the blind side of quarterback Philip Rivers. The 6’7” and 335 lbs McNeill was a four year starter at Auburn who adjusted very well to the NFL game and has not missed a start in two seasons. He would have been drafted much earlier if it had not been for his back problems which bothered him throughout his senior year in college. McNeill had a very good rookie season but seemed to slow down in his second year and was not as impressive. He is known for his very good pass protecting skills but had a little trouble against more agile defensive ends last season. McNeill was disappointed by his performance even though he was named to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season andt he did show much improvement as the season progressed. There’s no reason to believe that McNeill will not be back to the level he was as a rookie when he gave up only five sacks. Starting on the right side will be Jeromey Clary; a sixth round pick in 2006 who started six games last season in replacement of Shane Olivea. Clary impressed with his performances and kept the starting job over the last few weeks of the season. He is an upgrade over Olivea in pass protection because of his much quicker feet but needs to show more intensity in run blocking. Nonetheless, in the last five games of the season, the Chargers averaged 4.7 yards per carry and allowed 11 sacks against defenses that allowed 4.4 yards per carry and had 2.2 sacks per game. The right tackle position will remain a weak link for this line but Clary should improve with more experience as a starter and could be a surprise this season. Providing depth at tackle will be the 2008 seventh round pick Corey Clark. Clark has decent physical skills but is more of a long-term project for the Chargers because he has to improve his mobility and strength to be more effective as a run blocker.

Starting at left guard for the fourth consecutive season for the Chargers will be Kris Dielman. Dielman was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chargers in 2003 and has been quite impressive since then. Dielman was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, a well-earned selection for the 6’4” and 310 lbs guard. He is known for his very physical play and will be intense on every single play. He is especially impressive as a run blocker and has the agility to pull to the outside to block. Most would agree that Dielman was the best player on this line last season and he should continue his solid play this season. The right guard position however is not looking as good with 32 year old Mike Goff. Goff has started every game for the Chargers since being signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2004 but his run blocking abilities are well-below average. Goff has some good agility but he is getting older and is losing his ability to block in motion. Goff remains a decent pass blocker so will be the starter for at least one more season but the Chargers will look to replace him in the near future. The only depth at guard for now however is the Chargers seventh round pick in 2005 Scott Mruczkowski. Mruczkowski has only started one game in his first three NFL seasons but the team obviously liked what they have seen from him as they offered him a three-year extension this off-season. His versatility to play guard, center and right tackle is a very nice asset for this team. Mrcuzkowski will likely get a chance to start at the right guard position in camp but he is more likely to be the main backup at guard and center this season.

Starting at center for the Chargers will once again be Nick Hardwick. Hardwick has been the starter for the past four seasons since being drafted in the third round in 2005 but has only managed to stay injury free one time, in 2006. Hardwick is probably the most important player on the line and it has been obvious in the past three seasons as the running game averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in the seven games he missed and 4.7 yards per carry when he was playing. Cory Withrow was Hardwick’s replacement for four games last season and at 33 years old he is starting to slow down. He has been a career backup and it would not be surprising to see Mrcuzkowski as the backup center this season if Hardwick were to be injured.

2008 Outlook:
The Chargers will start the same five linemen who started the last five games of the 2007 regular season. This line is dominant as a unit in run blocking as we saw in those last five games when they had over 120 yards rushing in each game and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. The Chargers did cut Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal in the off-season but he missed the last three games of the regular season and the running game was equally impressive without him. This line is very young with an average age of only 27 years old and Mike Goff is the only lineman who is over 28 years of age. The downside of this line is that it has very little depth and as we saw last season, an injury to Hardwick makes the running game very average. Mrczukowski should be improved and ready to step in as a decent backup but if more than one lineman goes down with an injury, the offense will be in trouble. Nonetheless, this group is young so should be able to stay healthy and will improve as it continues to build chemistry. Overall this line is good in both pass blocking and run blocking and will improve slightly with the departure of Olivea and if Hardwick manages to stay healthy for all 16 games.

Updates:
August 4, 2008 – Nick Hardwick had surgery to his foot in March and is questionable for the beginning of the season. The Chargers signed Jeremy Newberry in case Hardwick is unable to start. Last season the Chargers averaged only 3.5 yards per carry against teams that allowed 3.9 yards per carry in the four games that Hardwick missed. Newberry is better than Withrow who was last year’s backup but this is still cause for concern.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Pittsburgh Steelers

Overview:
The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to their 2005 shape last season and made the playoffs in their first season under new Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Their defense was one of the best in the NFL while their offense was only slightly above average due to disappointing play by the offensive line. The line was in the bottom third of the league with 47 sacks allowed but was slightly above average in the running game with 4.2 yards per carry.

Starting at left tackle will once again be the former second round pick Marvel Smith. Smith played through a back injury last season which caused him to miss the last few games of the season. He had surgery in the off-season and says he now feels no pain in his back and is ready to go. Smith is a 6’5” and 310 lbs tackle who is known for being much better as a run blocker than in pass protection. He has good strength which allows him to get a push in the running game and seal the corner pretty well but lacks the quick feet a left tackle requires. At 30 years old he is likely to start slowing down and remains average at best in pass protection but overall he is still an above average tackle and an asset for this team. On the opposite side will be an interesting battle between the 26 year old Max Starks and the 25 year old Willie Colon. Starks is very big and strong at 6’8” and 340 lbs but has slow feet. He is a very good run blocker and does an excellent job of sealing the edge but will struggle in pass protection unless he has help on the outside. He lost his starting job at right tackle last season to Willie Colon but neither was very impressive, especially in pass protection. Colon is not as big at 6’3” and 315 lbs and he does have quicker feet so he is better than Starks in pass protection but he was not as good as a run blocker. Colon has to get stronger but he is good when blocking in small areas and may be moved to the guard position if Starks beats him at right tackle this season. Adding depth at tackle is the 6’4” and 325 lbs Trai Essex. He was a third round pick in 2005 and saw some action due to injuries last season but he was not particularly impressive. He is decent in pass protection but will struggle when it comes to run blocking and is likely no more than a career backup. The Steelers also selected Tony Hills in the 2008 NFL Draft to add further depth at the position. Hills has good size and has quick feet and good awareness which make him a good pass protector. The downside with him is that he is not overly strong and will struggle to hold his blocks for a long time. He still needs to improve his technique to find a way to get more push as a run blocker or he will likely be a career backup.

The left guard position is a big question mark for the Steelers entering the season after seven-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca signed as a free agent with the Jets. The job is likely to go to 2005 sixth round pick Chris Kemoeatu who has started only two games in three seasons with the Steelers. The 6’3” and 345 lbs guard is a good run blocker because of his size. The problem with Kemoeatu is that he has very little mobility so will be a good run blocker if he is asked to block right in front of him but he does not have the ability to pull to the outside. He will also struggle with lateral movements in pass protection and will get beaten by quick and strong defensive linemen. Kemoeatu also makes quite a few mental mistakes and will take penalties and miss assignments at times. Overall Kemoeatu is strong and big and will be a good run blocker up the middle but will struggle in all other aspects of the position. On the other side of the line will once again be the 2002 first round pick Kendall Simmons. Simmons was rewarded with a five-year extension right before the season started and for some reason it seemed to affect him. He was quite disappointing in both run blocking and passing protection last season but did seem to step up his play later in the year. He is a slightly below average guard, especially in pass protection and could see some competition at the position if Colon makes the move to guard.

Starting at center will likely be the 29 year old Justin Hartwig who was acquired as a free agent from the Carolina Panthers after they released him. Hartwig struggled most of last season with the Panthers because of a groin injury he suffered in 2006 and should be better this season. He is pretty big for a center at 6’4” and 315 lbs but lacks strength and does not have a good enough technique to make up for it. He will often get pushed into the backfield in pass protection but does have the ability to create some holes in the running game. The good news for the Steelers is that even though he is a below average center, he is an upgrade over Sean Mahan. Mahan provides depth at center and guard but he was the worst lineman on this line last season and was often pushed into the backfield. He does have a lot more experience at guard so may be better suited at that position but he should only be a backup this season.

2008 Outlook:
The Steelers line which struggled last season in pass protection will likely not see any improvement this season after losing Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. Kemoeatu is a downgrade over Faneca in both pass protection and run blocking and will hurt the offense. The good news for the Steelers is that Smith will be healthy and his play should improve and Justin Hartwig is a slight upgrade at the center position. The Steelers line did have some players playing hurt last season but none of them other than Smith missed significant time so it is hard to expect much of an improvement this season. In terms of depth, things are not much better for the Steelers who only have Willie Colon as a decent backup and potentially Mahan at guard. Overall, if everyone stays healthy the line will be slightly worse in run blocking and should be about the same in pass protection but things will be much worse if one or two of the linemen go down with an injury.

Updates:
August 4, 2008 – Willie Colon seems to have won the starting job at right tackle while Hartwig and Mahan are still balling for the starting center position but Hartwig has the edge. We thought Hartwig was an upgrade over Mahan but if they are still battling for the starting job he can’t be much better. In other words you take a line that gave up 47 sacks last season and averaged 4.2 yards per carry, you take away a 7-time Pro Bowler and replace him by a sixth round pick who has started two games in three years in the NFL. The line did average 4.5 yards per carry in the 12 games that Marvel Smith played so that is why we have the run blocking as being only slightly worse this season.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Philadelphia Eagles

Overview:
The Philadelphia Eagles offensive line had a very difficult season in 2007. After giving up only 28 sacks in 2007, the line gave up 49 in 2008 and ranked 29th in the league. The most difficult game was in week 4 against the New York Giants when starting LT Tra Thomas was injured and the line gave up 12 sacks. The Eagles returned the same five starters as in 2006 but McNabb’s lack of mobility and the poor play in the middle of the line were the reasons for the increase in sacks allowed. On top of the 49 sacks allowed, another concern was the 50 rushing attempts by McNabb which show that he had to scramble out of the pocket more often than he wanted to.

The tackle position which was a strength for the Eagles for so many years is slowly becoming weaker. Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan should return as the starters for the 8th consecutive season. Thomas is a very big and strong lineman at 6’7″ and 335 lbs who has been pretty durable since being drafted by the Eagles in 1998. His great strength makes him an excellent run blocker but he has never been very quick and it is has become more obvious now that he is 33 years old. The Eagles were one of the best in the NFL when running to the left side and Thomas was a big reason for that success. Jon Runyan is very similar to Thomas; he is durable and is also very big at 6’7” and 330 lbs. Runyan has not missed a game in 11 NFL seasons but played through injuries for most of the 2007 season. He is a decent blocker who, like Thomas, has lost a step and is starting to struggle in pass protection against speedy defensive ends. The Eagles drafted Winston Justice in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, a player that many saw as the left tackle of the future for the Eagles. Justice was however humiliated by Osi Umenyiora in his first and only NFL start in 2007. It is unfair to evaluate Justice based on that performance alone but it was obvious that he lacked quickness. He is still a very solid blocker and played much better when he replaced Runyan in the final game of the 2007 season against the Bills. Justice should be a solid player as he gains experience but he is likely a much better fit at right tackle, the position he played at USC. The Eagles added Mike McGlynn in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. McGlynn is a strong lineman with excellent awareness and good work ethic but who struggles against speedy rushers. He played right tackle in college but is likely a better fit at guard in the NFL so it remains to be seen how the Eagles will use him.

At guard, the Eagles have a much younger duo in Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews. Herremans should be the starting left guard for the Eagles for a third consecutive season. He had a very difficult season in 2007 mainly due to a knee injury that bothered him throughout the year. Herremans underwent surgery during the team’s bye week and did not miss a single start but it was obvious that he was not at full strength. There is no doubt that Herremans will have to be better in 2008 if he wants to keep his starting job but if he is healthy, there is no reason why he should not be as solid as he was in 2006. On the other side is Shawn Andrews who has been named to two straight Pro Bowls after only four seasons in the NFL. He had a disappointing season in 2007 because of a nagging ankle injury but is still one of the top five guards in the NFL. Andrews is both strong and athletic at 6’4” and 335 lbs and an asset for this line both in run blocking and pass protection. His main quality is his athleticism which allows him to pull to the outside on screen plays and he makes Westbrook even more dangerous. Max Jean-Gilles has been a backup guard since being drafted in the fourth round in 2006 but could very well win the starting left guard position in camp. He is a very powerful blocker at 6’3” and 360 lbs with excellent work ethic and he will continue to improve as he gains experience. If he does not win the job over Herremans this year, he could get more playing time next year as either Herremans or Andrews could move to tackle. The Eagles selected Mike Gibson in the sixth round of the 2008 draft to provide depth and also have former fifth round pick Scott Young on the roster but both are likely career backups.

The Eagles will start Jamaal Jackson at center for the third consecutive season. Jackson who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 was rewarded with a seven-year deal in 2006. He had a difficult season in 2007 mainly because of the number of penalties called against him. He is very big for a center at 6’4” and 330 lbs which can cause him trouble at times in pass blocking but it allows him to open up big holes in the running game. Nick Cole is the backup center and also has the ability to play guard. He is another very big lineman who is a solid run blocker but will struggle in pass protection. Cole is likely a career backup but is still very useful because of his ability to play on special teams.

2008 Outlook:
The Eagles line had a very difficult season in 2007 and will be returning all five starters. There should however be much more competition along the line with Jean-Gilles and Justice having one more year of experience. The struggles in 2007 were mainly due to poor play by Herremans and Jackson as well as Runyan and Thomas who are starting to slow down. Herremans should improve in 2008 now that his knee is recovered but Runyan and Thomas will continue to slow down. The Eagles are a very big line which focuses on power blocking and counts on McNabb to escape from pressure in passing situations. McNabb’s lack of mobility in 2007 therefore made the line’s weaknesses much more evident. The line has good depth but could struggle if Thomas or Andrews are hurt. Overall this unit should look better in 2008 with a healthy McNabb and hopefully an improved inside play after disappointing seasons by Herremans and Jackson.

Updates:
August 4, 2008 – Pro Bowl RG Shawn Andrews is not in training camp because of undisclosed personal reasons. The exact reason for his absence is unknown and if he remains away for too long this could become a concern. Max Jean-Gilles who was expected to compete with Herremans for the LG spot is stepping in on the right side and doing an adequate job. If Andrews is still not in camp two weeks from now this will become a concern for Westbrook but for now all we can do is wait.

August 20, 2008 – Shawn Andrews is back in camp and has said that he was suffering from depression. it is very goodnews that he is back and he should be ready for the opener.

2008 Offensive Line Analysis – Oakland Raiders

Overview:
The 2006 season was a disastrous one for the Oakland Raiders as they finished with only two wins. On top of that, they had the worst offense in terms of points scored and yards in part due to the offensive line that allowed 72 sacks. Lane Kiffin was brought in to replace Art Shell as Head Coach and there was a slight improvement but the Raiders still only won four games, five being their highest total since 2002. There were some good signs however as the offensive line only allowed 41 sacks, a large improvement over the previous year and the running backs averaged 4.1 yards per carry.

In the off-season, the Oakland Raiders signed tackle Kwame Harris as a free agent from the 49ers to be the starter on the left side. Harris is a former first round pick who started all games in both 2005 and 2006 for San Francisco but lost his starting right tackle job to rookie Joe Staley in 2007. Harris is big at 6’7” and 325 lbs but has never reached the first round pick potential he had in 2003. He is a pretty good run blocker because of his size and strength but makes too many mental mistakes and lacks lateral mobility. He struggles in pass protection but had his best games with the 49ers when he played on the left side so it may not be such a bad fit for him. He may not be the answer at left tackle but he will be an upgrade over Barry Sims who struggled all year long with speed rushers and was not a particularly good run blocker. On the right side will be an interesting battle between Paul McQuistan, Cornell Green and Mario Henderson. McQuistan was the Raiders third round pick in 2006 and started 12 games in the last two seasons. He became the starting right tackle in week 12 last season when Cornell Green went down with an injury. In those six games the Raiders allowed only ten sacks and averaged 4.1 yards per carry, a large improvement from the 22 sacks and 3.2 yards per carry average in the previous six games. McQuistan is a physical blocker in the running game but will make mental mistakes too often like the rest of this line. He remains a below average tackle by NFL standards but should improve as he continues to gain experience. Cornell Green is a veteran who will be 32 years old when the season begins. He was an undrafted free agent in 2000 and had only started eight games until last season with the Raiders. Green struggled all season in pass protection and was a liability for this line even if he was a pretty good run blocker. There is also a slight chance that 2007 third round pick Mario Henderson earns the starting job in camp but he will likely be used as a backup. He played mostly left tackle at Florida State because of his awareness and quick feet which make him a good pass protector. He is not a very good run blocker because of his lack of strength so would probably be a better fit on the left side of the line.

At left guard will be Robert Gallery; the Raiders second overall pick in 2004 never lived up to expectations at tackle but seems to be doing a much better job at guard. Gallery is big at 6’7” and 325 lbs but lacks athleticism and made too many mental mistakes to be an effective tackle in the NFL. He was much more effective at guard but remains average at best because of his poor technique. Nonetheless, he was one of the reasons why the Raiders were a decent running team last season and he should continue to improve as he gains experience at guard. Starting on the right side will be Cooper Carlisle, a 6’5” and 295 lbs guard who started every game for the Broncos in 2005 and 2006. He is not very strong but has good technique and knows his assignments in the zone blocking system. The soon to be 31 years old Carlisle is by far the most disciplined lineman on this line and a good veteran presence on this line. He will struggle at times in pass protection but he is a key to the running game for the Raiders and is a reason why the Raiders were effective when running to the right side. If either guard were to go down with an injury, McQuistan or Green would likely make the switch to guard.

The Raiders signed John Wade as a free agent from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to replace Jeremy Newberry as the starting center. Wade is a veteran at 33 years old and was the starter with the Buccaneers for the past five seasons. He is a very smart center but did get beat in the middle much more often in recent years because of his lack of strength. However, the Raiders line has been known to be quite undisciplined and a veteran presence like Wade will definitely help. The zone blocking scheme in Oakland will allow Wade to extend his career for one or two more years and he should be a decent replacement for Newberry. Jake Grove will provide depth at center for the Raiders. He was the starter in 2006 before Newberry arrived but he is another Raiders pick who failed to live up to expectations in part due to injury troubles. Grove suffered a season-ending knee injury last season and should be a backup once again this season.

2008 Outlook:
The Raiders will have three starters returning from the end of the 2007 season with Gallery at left guard, Carlisle at right guard and McQuistan at right tackle. Add to that John Wade who should be a slight upgrade over Newberry and Kwame Harris who should also be a slight upgrade over Barry Sims and the Oakland line could be decent in 2008. The line will be in trouble however if anyone is hurt because Grove and Green are not very good backups while Henderson has extremely limited NFL experience. Overall the line is slightly improved in run blocking because of Harris on the left side but will still struggle in pass protection for the same reason and JaMarcus Russell is likely to have a lot of pressure coming from behind him.