Monday, August 29, 2011
NFC East offensive line thoughts
By Dan Graziano
The news of the day so far in the NFC East is the Dallas Cowboys' decision to release center Andre Gurode and apparently head into the season with three new starters on the offensive line. Now, as happens whenever anyone we've ever heard of gets released, fans of the teams in this division want to know whether he's going to end up on their teams. So:
- Cowboys: No, obviously.
- Giants: Extremely unlikely. They targeted and signed David Baas to play center, and they like him. They like their guards, too.
- Eagles: Doubtful. They want Jason Kelce to win the job, and even if he doesn't, they already have Jamaal Jackson.
- Redskins: Possible, but I admit I don't have any insight into whether they're still looking to add to their line.
Miami makes sense, and I think I saw somebody mention Chicago. If Gurode is to be a division alum, we wish him well, but we're not likely to pay him much more attention. I'd rather focus on the offensive linemen who are actually in the division, and since the line pictures are starting to come into clear focus with all four teams (for better or for worse), let's take a look at each. Alphabetically, of course, since that's the only way I know to minimize hurt feelings.
Starters: LT Doug Free, LG Bill Nagy, C Phil Costa, RG Kyle Kosier, RT Tyron Smith
Reserves: G David Arkin, G Montrae Holland, T Sam Young, C Kevin Kowalski
Analysis: Wouldn't be surprised to see them add a veteran swingman who can back up the tackles. Nagy or Kowalski can handle center if Costa is not ready for the start of the season. I'd expect Arkin to get the first shot at playing time over Holland if a guard spot opened up, but if they should need a long-term fill-in, they might lean toward Holland. They like Arkin a lot but believe he needs more seasoning. Overall, there are more question marks here than you'd like to see. Nagy knows what he's doing but might not be strong enough yet to play the position full time in the NFL. Smith is a beast, but his footwork still needs some refinement. And the group as a whole hasn't played together for more than a couple of weeks. The most important guy might be Kosier, whom line coach Hudson Houck described to me last week as "kind of a secondary coach out there" because of the way he communicates with and among the other linemen. If they come together quickly and the rookies develop, Kosier is likely to get a lot of the credit.
New York Giants
Starters: LT William Beatty, LG David Diehl, C David Baas, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie
Reserves: T Stacy Andrews, T Jamon Meredith, C Adam Koets, G Kevin Boothe
Analysis: Koets might have to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list because of his injured knee, which could open a spot for Mitch Petrus or even rookie James Brewer. With Snee and McKenzie, the Giants have as strong a right side as any line in the entire league. Baas looks like a professional and a mauler, and the only question is how quickly he can get up to speed with Eli Manning and his linemates, since he's the new guy in town and they haven't had many here lately. Moving inside to guard should help Diehl, who struggled at tackle last season even when he was healthy. For me, the whole thing rests on whether third-year man Beatty is ready to handle the role of starting left tackle in the NFL. Diehl is right there to help him, and Beatty isn't a rookie or new to the Giants. They believe they've groomed him for this and that he's ready. Assuming he is, the talent and the relative lack of major changes make this the division's top line.
Starters: LT Jason Peters, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, RG Danny Watkins, RT Todd Herremans
Reserves: C Jamaal Jackson, T Winston Justice, T King Dunlap, G Reggie Wells
Analysis: If Justice isn't ready, maybe Mike McGlynn will grab that spot. Still some things unsettled here, including among the starters. Mathis, Kelce and Watkins are all new, the latter two are rookies, and Herremans is changing positions from left guard. Watkins is the first-round draft pick and as such he can expect to be the starter no matter how badly he's struggled in the preseason. They're saying the same about Kelce, but if he's clearly not ready, they can always go back to Jackson until he is. Peters is a given, and a stud, in the passing and running games. And Herremans should be fine at tackle, although it says a lot about where the Eagles are with the state of their line that they moved him there with two weeks left in the preseason. I predict that this line will struggle at the outset and maybe even cost Philadelphia an early game or two, but that it will show improvement under Howard Mudd as things move along and ultimately be good enough to deliver effective protection for Michael Vick and the Eagles' other outstanding skill-position players.
Starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Kory Lichtensteiger, C Will Montgomery, RG Chris Chester, RT Jammal Brown
Reserves: T Sean Locklear, G Artis Hicks, G Selvish Capers, C Erik Cook
Analysis: One of the reasons I couldn't rule out Gurode here was that the group could use some depth. As for the starters, though, this is the line in the NFC East that looks most like it did last season. Only Chester is new, and while Montgomery wasn't the starting center last season, he played there and is likely to be an upgrade over Casey Rabach. Due to Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, this is a group that must play and execute together in order to be effective. If one guy looks bad, the whole line is going to look bad. A lot rests on Williams, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, who must play with more consistency this season if he's to prove his talent justified that pick. Brown was a big re-signing, as he was well liked by teammates and linemates and brings a veteran presence among a relatively young group.