NFL Nation: Rich Ohrnberger
They’re confident they can find a starter among the players already on the roster, beginning with third-year player Mike Brewster.
"We felt like going through our end-of-season evaluations that Brew could hold the fort down," Caldwell said during the NFL owners’ meetings this week. "This is a big year for him. He’s going into his contract year and it felt like that it could be a year for him to really excel and be the guy. I know the players feel comfortable with him. I know our coaching staff feels comfortable with him.
Jacques McClendon, whom the Jaguars claimed last September and ended up playing in five games (two starts) at guard, also can play center. But Brewster, who was a four-year starter and Rimington Award finalist at Ohio State, gets the first chance. He missed the final two games of the season after suffering a fractured left ankle, but is expected to be healthy in time for OTAs in April.
Bradley said Brewster has worked hard in rehab alongside left tackle Luke Joeckel, who missed 11 games after suffering a fractured right ankle, and appears to have gotten bigger and stronger.
"I think that he’s in the mindset that he has the opportunity right in front of him and he’s really going to take advantage of this opportunity," Bradley said. "We’ll see. He looks the part, coming off of his injury very well, but it’s going to be competitive. We have confidence in him to play that position. We’ve talked in our offensive staff meetings and our overall staff meetings specifically about that one position, and his name keeps coming up."
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Brewster, however, has yet to play a snap at center in his first two seasons. He has played in 26 games with 10 starts since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but all have been at left or right guard.
In fact, only one of the Jaguars’ other current options at center has taken a snap. McClendon snapped once against Tennessee when Meester moved to tight end so he could catch a pass in his Jaguars finale. McClendon, a fourth-round pick by Indianapolis in 2010, has played in just nine games, five of which came with the Jaguars last season.
The Jaguars signed Lewis from Cleveland’s practice squad on Dec. 17. He has yet to play in an NFL game.
There are still 13 free-agent centers available -- led by Kyle Cook, Brian de la Puente, Mike Gibson and Rich Ohrnberger -- so the Jaguars might still add one on a bargain contract before the draft. Even if they do, however, they’ll still likely draft one in May. Starting a rookie center is not ideal because of the responsibilities of making line calls and adjustments, but signing veteran guard Zane Beadles and re-signing quarterback Chad Henne makes it more palatable, Bradley said.
"The center spot is always dangerous," Bradley said. "If you start with a rookie center and a rookie quarterback, I think that makes it difficult. But if you have a veteran quarterback and it happens to be a rookie center, you’ll still go through some growing pains, but it’s not to the extreme of both being rookies."
It’s Brewster’s job for now, but the Jaguars are obviously keeping their options open.
The Jaguars weren’t exactly hurting for salary-cap space, but releasing Nwaneri saves the team about $3.7 million in cap space for 2014. That gives them approximately $60 million to spend, and a good chunk of it will be devoted to the interior of the offensive line. That is the team's biggest need after quarterback and pass-rusher. The group struggled early last season with the transition to a zone-blocking scheme, and the Jaguars eventually mixed back in some man-blocking schemes.
The strength of a team’s running game comes from the center and two guards, and those spots for Jacksonville weren’t very productive in 2013. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in rushing (78.8 yards per game), and running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s 3.4 yards per carry average was the worst of his career. Meester was in his 14th season and didn't play at the same level he had the past several seasons. Nwaneri played through torn cartilage in his knee in 2012 and dealt with the lingering effects from the injury in 2013. Starting right guard Will Rackley battled a knee injury throughout the 2013 season.
The Jaguars were thought to be going to make a run at Cleveland center Alex Mack, but the Browns placed the transition tag on him earlier this week. The Jaguars could still offer him a contract, but the Browns have five days to match the offer.
Other possibilities at center include New England’s Ryan Wendell and New Orleans’ Brian De La Puente. Possible targets at guard include Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and San Diego’s Rich Ohrnberger.
The Jaguars drafted Nwaneri in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and he played in 104 games with 92 starts. He started and played every snap in 2013.
Who is on the roster: OT Cameron Bradfield, G/C Mike Brewster, OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, OT DeMarcus Love, G Jacques McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, G Drew Nowak, G Uche Nwaneri, OT Austin Pasztor, G Will Rackley, and OT Sam Young.
NFL free agents of interest: C Alex Mack, C Ryan Wendell, C Brian De La Puenta, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, and G Rich Ohrnberger.
Need meter: 9. After quarterback and leo, the interior of the offensive line is the Jaguars’ biggest need. GM David Caldwell has said the team would like to address that in free agency, and it would be a surprise if the Jaguars didn’t sign at least two starters, including a center, within the first few weeks of free agency. It’s unlikely the Jaguars would target the big names that are available, mainly because of cost, but if those players linger on the market and the price drops, the Jaguars would get involved. Even though Joeckel is talented and seemed to thrive in the very limited time he spent at left tackle, there are still questions about him, so the Jaguars might opt to add some experienced depth at tackle. Competition for roster spots on the line will be among the more interesting training camp battles.
The Chargers solved an offseason-long need at left tackle by signing former Pittsburgh starter Max Starks. While Starks is not a long-term answer (the Chargers will likely try to address the position more permanently next year via free agency or the draft), he does complete the starting offensive line. The unit has been subpar for the past two years because of major injuries.
The Chargers used their first-round pick, No. 11 overall, on D.J. Fluker. He is expected to play right tackle. They signed Chad Rinehart in free agency; he is expected to start at left tackle. Former right tackle Jeromey Clary has the early edge over 2012 draft pick Johnnie Troutman, who was injured all of last season, at right guard. Longtime anchor Nick Hardwick remains the constant at center.
Williamson has other ideas San Diego might want to try.
He would move Starks to right tackle, use free-agent addition King Dunlap at left tackle and move Fluker to right guard.
“That way you would have one great player this year on that line in Fluker,” Williamson said. “I think he can be a Pro Bowler at right guard. I think he will struggle some at right tackle. He will have trouble sliding and dealing with speed rushers. At right guard, he can move ahead and smash people, which are his strengths.”
Williamson thinks Starks, who has played right tackle, can be successful on the right side, and that Dunlap can be a suitable short-term answer at left tackle. Dunlap can also play right tackle.
It’s an interesting concept. I get the idea of putting a player like Fluker where he can best help.
Even if the Chargers keep the current plan, I do think the unit is improved. That's not to say that, as a whole, it is above average -- there will still be work to do next year. But San Diego can get by with this group.
What is important is the Chargers’ offensive line is much deeper than it was in the past. In addition to Troutman, the team has youngsters in Troutman, David Molk and Mike Harris and free-agent pickup Rich Ohrnberger. If the line suffers massive injuries for a third consecutive year, it will be in better shape than in the past.
They were also thinking about the NFC West.
"Our division is so physical," coach Bruce Arians told reporters Thursday night, "and the thing that sets San Francisco, Seattle, and now St. Louis also, apart is their offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage are extremely good."
It's not yet clear whether Cooper will play left guard or right guard for the long term. The Cardinals can use him against NFC West interior defensive lines featuring Brandon Mebane, Michael Brockers and Justin Smith in base and/or sub packages.
"We have to match that physicality on both sides of the ball," Arians said.
Daryn Colledge, Rex Hadnot, Deuce Lutui, Alan Faneca, Adam Snyder, Rich Ohrnberger and Pat McQuistan have started at guard for the Cardinals over the past three seasons.
The Cardinals see Cooper becoming a perennial Pro Bowl player. They embraced comparisons to Larry Allen, who was recently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He has a unique skill set, maybe one of the more athletic offensive linemen I've [scouted] in the 15 years I've been in the business," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "He has tremendous feet, bend, athleticism, space skills, and the ability to pull and play on the perimeter."
Keim is in his first season as the Cardinals' GM. He played on the offensive line at North Carolina State, potentially giving him special insight into the position.
Drafting a guard will never captivate the broader public, but evaluators with experience in line play can border on giddiness when they see a prospect as talented as Cooper. That was the sense in Tennessee when Titans coach Mike Munchak and line coach Bruce Matthews drafted Chance Warmack, the other highly rated guard in the 2013 draft. Munchak and Matthews were Hall of Fame linemen.
"I've known Munchak and Matthews since 1996," Paul Kuharsky wrote on the AFC South blog. "I can't recall ever seeing the two low-key, business-like football men beam quite so brightly. The glow they gave off at the news conference at the Titans' headquarters after making the 10th pick made me believe it when they said there was no question Warmack was their man early on -- something virtually every coach stated Thursday night."
The feeling had to be similar for Keim in Arizona.
"I think the question was first posed to me at the combine in Indianapolis of whether I thought No. 7 was too high to take an offensive guard," Keim said. "I think that we have our answer."
The paper also reports that the Miami Dolphins (Dumervil’s hometown team) and Tennessee Titans are now interested. The Pittsburgh Steelers are also interested.
If Denver doesn’t land Dumervil, the team could sign John Abraham or Dwight Freeney as a replacement. Both visited Denver on Thursday. The saga should end within the next 48 hours.
In other AFC West news:
The Chargers signed Arizona guard Rich Ohrnberger. He started four games for the Cardinals last season under new San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. He is the sixth player San Diego has signed in free agency; he's the fifth and the third offensive lineman. He will compete for a starting job and provide depth at the very least.
The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.
A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:
UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling
UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler
RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.
Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.
St. Louis Rams
UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams
UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh
RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.
Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.
San Francisco 49ers
UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker
UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga
RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.
Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.
UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale
UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant
UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell
RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
"If we had to replace one guy," Colledge said back then, "he would be the worst one [to lose] probably on the whole football team. He is the key cog, especially for this offensive line. He is the captain and he is our guy."
Next came the part that shot through my mind Monday upon learning that a knee injury would sideline Sendlein for the remainder of the 2012 season.
"Without him," Colledge said, "the wheels just might come off."
Rich Ohrnberger is expected to replace Sendlein beginning Sunday on the road against the New York Jets. He has two NFL starts. Sendlein had started 75 consecutive regular-season games for Arizona, plus six playoff games, including a Super Bowl.
We could make a case that the wheels have already come off. Arizona has lots its last seven games following a 4-0 start. The team has been starting rookies at both offensive tackle spots. Both top running backs have missed much of the season to injuries. Quarterback Kevin Kolb has been out, too, along with tight end Todd Heap and right guard Adam Snyder.
The injury situation has spiraled so far out of control in Arizona that it might reasonably weigh into any decisions the organization might make about the long-term direction of the team under coach Ken Whisenhunt. It has to be a consideration, at least.
Such is the injury imbalance for the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
Running backs Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James are both inactive for the 49ers. Arizona is without its top two backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.
Also inactive for the 49ers: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver A.J. Jenkins, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney and nose tackle Ian Williams.
The Cardinals' list features quarterback Kevin Kolb, receiver LaRon Byrd, cornerback Greg Toler, linebacker Jamaal Westerman, guard Senio Kelemete, guard Adam Snyder and tight end Todd Heap.
Rich Ohrnberger will start ahead of Snyder at right guard. LaRod Stephens-Howling starts at running back for Arizona. Wells can return from injured reserve Nov. 25. Williams is out for the season.
Surprise move: There was plenty of speculation about safety Brandon Meriweather's future after he played into the fourth quarter with the second unit in Thursday’s exhibition finale against the New York Giants, but it was still a surprise when the Patriots outright released the former first-round pick (24th overall in the 2007 draft) on Saturday. After releasing veteran James Sanders as part of the previous cutdowns, the Patriots further turned over that position, waving goodbye to a player who’s been to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.
The team also raised some eyebrows by releasing defensive end Eric Moore, a starter at season’s end last year, but the additions of veterans such as Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis on the defensive line made him expendable. Wide receiver Brandon Tate, who was the team’s primary kick returner and No. 3 receiver last year, got edged by more versatile bodies, and veteran running back Sammy Morris was a victim of an influx of young talent at running back.
No-brainers: First-year players like offensive lineman Thomas Austin, running back Eric Kettani, and defensive back Ross Ventrone, as well as rookies linebacker Markell Carter, defensive lineman Aaron Lavarias, defensive end Alex Silvestro, tight end Lee Smith and tight end Will Yeatman were longer shots to make the roster. The release of two young tight ends (Smith and Yeatman) is a bit surprising given New England’s love of three tight-end sets and no pure fullback. (Could veteran Alge Crumpler be on the radar?)
What’s next: The Patriots are certainly in the market for safety help, and with backup guard Rich Ohrnberger placed on season-ending injured reserve, the team is thin on the interior line. Remember that this team rarely sits idle after cutdowns. Expect the Patriots to tweak their roster further based on what becomes available from cutdowns across the league.
Smith was the Jets' top kickoff returner, bringing back two for touchdowns in the regular season. He also is a potent weapon in the run game as an option quarterback in their Wildcat-style offense.
Newsworthy for the Patriots is that tight end Aaron Hernandez is active after missing the last two regular-season games with a hip injury.
Here are the rest of Sunday's scratches:
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Fullback John Conner
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert
- Outside linebacker Vernon Gholston
New England Patriots
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Receiver Laveranues Coles
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Guard Vladimir Ducasse
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive tackle Matt Kroul
- Linebacker Jamaal Westerman
- Running back Joseph Addai
- Running back Mike Hart
- Guard Jaimie Thomas
- Defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews
- Linebacker Clint Session
- Linebacker Gary Brackett
- Cornerback Justin Tryon
- Safety Bob Sanders
New England Patriots
- Running back Fred Taylor
- Receiver Taylor Price
- Guard Stephen Neal
- Guard Rich Ohrnberger
- Tackle Mark LeVoir
- Defensive lineman Myron Pryor
- Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite
- Safety Jarrad Page
Here are the inactives:
- Quarterback Joe Webb
- Running back Albert Young
- Receiver Hank Baskett
- Guard Chris DeGeare
- Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy
- Linebacker Erin Henerson
- Cornerback Lito Sheppard
- Safety Tyrell Johnson
- Receiver Donte' Stallworth
- Tackle Scott Kooistra
- Tackle Jared Gaither
- Defensive tackle Arthur Jones
- Defensive tackle Lamar Divens
- Defensive end Paul Kruger
- Linebacker Tavares Gooden
- Cornerback Josh Wilson
Final San Diego 22 Buffalo 10 Final Dallas 34 St. Louis 31 Final Washington 34 Philadelphia 37 Final Houston 17 New York 30 Final Minnesota 9 New Orleans 20 Final Tennessee 7 Cincinnati 33 Final Baltimore 23 Cleveland 21 Final Green Bay 7 Detroit 19 Final Indianapolis 44 Jacksonville 17 Final Oakland 9 New England 16 Final San Francisco 14 Arizona 23 Final/OT Denver 20 Seattle 26 Final Kansas City 34 Miami 15 Final Pittsburgh 37 Carolina 19