Tennessee Titans 2012 Divisional Preview by Position: Offensive Line
The AFC South seems pretty clear-cut this coming season, doesn't it?
The Houston Texans are coming off a great year, with an even brighter 2012 season ahead; the Tennessee Titans are looking strong but don't seem ready for the next level; the Jacksonville Jaguars will be fielding a top 10 defense but have a lot of question marks; and the Indianapolis Colts are in a total rebuild.
Pretty clear pecking order right? Not really.
Every season, about half the teams that made the playoffs the year before miss them the following year, and about half the teams in the playoffs any given year were not there the year before. Factor in the dynasties like the Colts and Patriots of the 2000s and the turnaround is even more haphazard.
There are questions all around the AFC South, and things could end up being completely different than we think. So how do the Titans stack up to the other teams in the AFC South at each position? Let's take an in-depth look at the other teams and see, starting with the offensive line.
The Titans offensive line played well last year in pass protection, finishing as one of the top five units in sacks surrendered and number of penalties. However, their run blocking was pretty lackluster, and it showed in the running game.
Without any new linemen coming in from the draft, I don't expect a dramatic improvement in that area in 2012.
At the tackle spots, the Titans are about as good as it gets. Michael Roos is one of the best left tackles in the NFL, and David Stewart is one of the best on the right. Roos is a technician and has been his whole career. Stewart is a mauler and the team's best run blocker.
If the rest of the line was as good as those two, life for the Titans would be a lot easier, but it's the interior where things start to get messy.
Left guard Steve Hutchinson is the only new addition. He's a potential Hall of Famer, but he is pretty old. Still, a seven-time Pro Bowler is an improvement almost anywhere.
Leroy Harris will likely be the starter on the right side. He accrued more penalties in 2011 than any other lineman but is a decent enough guard to hold down the right side for now.
Center is the weakest link in the line. Eugene Amano will likely start, but he may lose his job to Kevin Matthews if he continues to struggle. Either way, center will remain a top priority for the Titans in next year's draft.
The Texans offensive line was superb in 2011 in both run blocking and pass blocking. They lost their right tackle in free agency, but that shouldn't be that big of a problem for them if you ask me.
At left tackle they have Duane Brown, who's quickly turned into a fantastic left tackle. He's still very young and there's no reason to believe that he won't continue to be great in 2012.
At the right tackle spot, they'll likely start Rashad Butler. He's had plenty of playing time over the years, and he can be a band aid for the position now, but he is a severe downgrade from Eric Winston.
At guard, the Texans are pretty secure. Wade Smith isn't getting any younger, but he's still got plenty of football left in him and a successor ready if he starts to fall off. The right guard spot will be taken by either Antoine Caldwell or rookie Brandon Brooks.
At center, the Texans managed to re-sign Chris Myers, yet another standout lineman. He's undersized, but continues to get it done and should keep being great in 2012.
The Colts are in transition, and nothing shows that more than their offensive line. Their only returning starters from 2011 are left tackle Anthony Castonzo and right tackle Jeff Linkenbach.
Castonzo started most of the season for the Colts but had an up-and-down season before being sidelined with an injury. He's essentially an unknown commodity.
Linkenbach was terrible in 2011, but he will likely start again in 2012 simply because the Colts have no one else to fill the spot.
At left guard, the Colts will probably start Ben Ijalana, who could play either guard or tackle, but is listed on the Colts' website as a guard, so that's probably where he'll play. The other guard spot will probably go to Mike McGlenn, a free agent from Cincinnati.
Center is a big question mark. Jeff Saturday has held the spot for as long as I can remember, and since he was one of the best centers in the game, he'll be a tough act to follow.
For now, the only center on the roster with starter experience is former Raider Samson Satele, so he'll probably be the starter for 2012.
The Jaguars will return all the starters form 2011, but that isn't necessarily a good thing.
At tackle, they should be OK. Eugene Monroe is good, and he's still pretty young. Eben Britton was good in 2010, but he lost a lot of time in 2011 to injury.
Guard is little better. Will Rackley will start for the second year at left guard, and after last season, he's an uncertainty. He was terrible, but he was a rookie. He could be much better in 2012.
The right guard spot is more stable, being held down by veteran Jason Spitz. Spitz is a solid guard, and he could move to the left side or to center if the Jaguars need him there.
Brad Meester will continue to start at center for now, but he could be replaced down the road by rookie Michael Brewster, who, surprisingly, went undrafted. Meester is 35, so it's anyone's guess how much time he has left.
Brewster was a very good undrafted free agent pickup for the Jags, and he will be a good insurance policy on Meester if he goes down.
Advantage: Houston Texans
The Texans have one weak spot on an otherwise great offensive line, and that's at right tackle. This gives them an edge over the Titans who will be weak at center and right guard.
The ranking of the AFC South offensive lines ends up mirroring what the predicted standings will be: the Texans in first, the Titans behind them, then the Jags, with the Colts coming in last.
The Titans' problems with run blocking won't be as big a deal as they were last season. With the team transitioning to a pass-first offense, pass blocking is much more important, and that just happens to be what they excel at.
Even so, with all but one starter from an excellent year returning, I have to say that the Texans have the advantage at the offensive line spot over the Titans for the time being.