NFL training camps are upon us and though the excitement is palpable, front office executives and coaches know there are still roster spots to fill and position battles that need to be watched closely. As the preseason games start this coming weekend with the Hall of Fame game, let’s look at teams whose signal callers and running backs need to be on alert due to the lack of talent, cohesiveness or experience along the offensive line. Do not be surprised if some of the players discussed here are either released or become backups before or during the current NFL season.
The Colts come into the season with only one starter along their offensive line who was drafted by the team. The other four are all retreads from other teams.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is a former first rounder for the Colts in 2011 and should be a staple for the Colts for years to come. But he missed a majority of the offseason after ankle surgery. This is the same ankle that cost the second-year player from Boston College four games as a rookie.
Center Samson Satele is on his third NFL team in six NFL seasons and though he has the most experience along the Colts offensive line, he is new to the team and must gain the trust of his teammates and more importantly, new QB Andrew Luck.
Right guard Mike McGlynn is also on his third NFL team in five seasons and only has 18 total starts going into his fifth NFL season. Right tackle Winston Justice, who the Colts traded for from the Eagles this offseason, only played in six games for the Eagles in 2011 with one start.
The Colts are in a clear rebuilding phase, so do not be surprised if one or more of these players is not a starter for Indianapolis in 2012.
The Bears have an offensive line unit that has solid talent, but has had injury concerns and must build a better cohesiveness if the Bears want to keep QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte healthy. Right tackle Gabe Carimi dislocated his right knee cap in his rookie season and has been slowly brought back into the mix this season. The former first rounder in 2011 has the makings of a solid NFL starter or he could take the path of another former first rounder for the Bears, Marc Colombo, who went on to be a serviceable starter in the NFL, but not for the Bears.
Left tackle J’Marcus Webb is entering his third year as the starter, a job he fell into with former first-rounder Chris Williams, not panning out as planned. Webb has long arms and seems to be improving, but he will take plays off and get beaten by players he should dominate.
The interior of the Bears OL is average. Center Robert Garza is an aging veteran who gets by more on smarts than skill. Left guard Chris Spencer is serviceable but on the backside of his career and right gaurd Lance Louis only has 17 starts in a three-year career that has been shaky at best in Chicago.
The Bears did not address the offensive line in the 2012 draft and have a first-year offensive line coach in Tim Holt. The Bears have a chance to be an explosive offense in 2012, but the major component will be the play of the offensive line.
St. Louis Rams
With a new general manager and head coach in place, the Rams are creating a new culture at Rams Park. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher are looking for tough-minded players who will battle for each other every play. A huge factor to the success of that mantra is for the players to be able to play every play. Nowhere is this more important than along the offensive line.
Teams that constantly rotate offensive linemen in and out always struggle. No team juggled their offensive line more in 2011 than the St. Louis Rams. Both starting tackles, Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith finished the year on injured reserve. Smith still has lingering effects of concussions and has to be monitored this preseason. He took a pay cut in the offseason after being drafted in 2009 to replace Orlando Pace as the franchise left tackle.
Left guard Bryan Mattison is a former college defensive lineman who has spent most of his NFL career on practice squads. Center Scott Wells comes in with a lot of fanfare after a Pro Bowl career in Green Bay and will be asked to help bring this young group together. But Wells is 31 and will be learning a new offensive system for the first time in his nine-year NFL career.
Right guard Harvey Dahl was a big free agent signing for the Rams after the lockout in 2011. He was added to bring a toughness and nastiness to the offensive line. While he was the best Rams offensive lineman in 2011, he had to play out of position at right tackle after Saffold went on injured reserve and lost his aggressiveness. The Rams will need all of these players to play at their peak if Fisher hopes to get QB Sam Bradford back to the form he showed as a rookie and to keep Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson happy.
The worst offense in 2011 gets a major makeover with the hiring of new head coach Mike Mularkey. One the new coach's biggest tasks will be remaking the offensive line. The Jaguars only averaged 259.3 yards a game in 2011 and much of this was due to poor play along the offensive line.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe has great feet and a solid punch, but due to his playing most of last season less than 300 lbs., struggles as a run blocker. When he was injured in 2011, the team struggled to find anyone who could hold up on the left side.
Right tackle Eben Britton was just recently cleared to start working out after landing on injured reserve in October last year with a back injury. His health will be a huge question mark as the Jaguars enter the 2012 season. Their depth is not good and if they lose Britton for an extended period of time, QB Blaine Gabbert could struggle like he did last season.
Center Brad Meester is a wily veteran who is the longest tendered Jaguar, having entered the NFL in 2000. But he is 35-years-old and has contemplated retiring the past two offseasons.
Guards Will Rackley and Uche Nwaneri are both solid players for the Jaguars but due to the inconsistent lineups for Jacksonville last year, they were asked to do more than they should have and were exposed as blockers at times. With a healthy group, the Jaguars can improve upfront, but until the offensive line is stabilized, Mularkey is in for a long season.
With all the talk coming out of Dallas about 2012 being their year to “put up or shut up”, one of the biggest issues that head coach Jason Garrett needs to address is the offensive line. The move of former right tackle Tyron Smith to left tackle is going to be something to watch all season. Smith is a great athlete and should be able to make the move with ease, but blocking the blindside for a QB like Tony Romo who will hold the ball longer to extend the play will test Smith.
Right tackle Doug Free, the former left tackle who struggled at that position, is back to playing at his natural spot. But the footwork and techniques are completely different and will take time for Free to adjust to.
The interior of the Cowboys line is where the weaknesses appear. Center Phil Costa can be over-powered at the point of attack and needs constant help from one of his guards. Left guard Nate Livings, a big free agent signing for the Cowboys this past offseason from the Cincinnati Bengals, is an average at best player.
Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau starts the season on the physically unable to perform list and only started one game for the Carolina Panthers last year. Not only will his injury hurt his chances of being effective in 2012, but cause a lack of cohesiveness and togetherness with an offensive line that is being completely remade in 2012.
If the Dallas Cowboys do not make the playoffs in 2012, look to see how the offensive line is played come January.