- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Three NFC West teams could be breaking in new left tackles this season. A quick look at each team's situation at the position:
Projected 2010 starter: Levi Brown
The plan: Brown has started all 32 games at right tackle over the past two seasons. There was some thought initially that he might stay there as a blindside protector for left-handed quarterback Matt Leinart, but coach Ken Whisenhunt put to rest that thinking during the Cardinals' recently concluded post-draft camp. Brown, the fifth player chosen in the 2007 NFL draft, will move to the left side. Gandy had played pretty well there in recent seasons, but injuries caught up to him in 2009. Gandy became an unrestricted free agent and the Cardinals did not re-sign him. Bridges played well enough in relief to stick as a swing player on the line.
Projected 2010 starter: Russell Okung
The plan: There will be no grace period for Okung. Line coach Alex Gibbs made it clear on draft day that Okung would be the starting left tackle from Week 1. Popular perception says Okung is filling king-sized shoes, but long-time starting left tackle Walter Jones didn't play at all last season. Okung should have little trouble providing an upgrade over the four-man rotation that manned the position last season. Locklear should be more comfortable back on the right side. Frye played reasonably well last season and might have fit with the current scheme, but a neck injury intervened.
2009 starter: Alex Barron
Projected 2010 starter: Jason Smith
The plan: The Rams haven't said how they'll handle Smith, the second overall choice in the 2009 draft, this season. The team has simply said it plans to play its five best linemen. The feeling has been that Smith would take over at left tackle eventually, but nothing has been made official to this point. Barron has been durable and his agent said he plans to sign the team's one-year offer. Second-round rookie Rodger Saffold gives the Rams another option at tackle or guard. This situation is still a little fluid to make a firm projection for 2010, but it's safe to say Smith will be the long-term starter on the left side no later than 2011. Barron appears best suited on the left side, however, so if he is part of the mix and the Rams determine he is one of their best five, Barron could start there again in 2010.
2009 starter: Joe Staley
Projected 2010 starter: Staley
The plan: The 49ers have long-term options at the position after using the 11th overall choice for Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis. Davis was working as a backup right tackle during the post-draft camp, however, and he appears more likely to play on that side, at least initially. Staley has been a solid player at both tackle spots. The 49ers re-signed him for the long term and Staley has declared his intent to hold down the left side. The 49ers have to like their situation at left tackle. They can stick with Staley and be fine. If Davis proves better on the left side eventually, the 49ers come out fine that way, too.