There has been a lot of talk on MHR on what to do with the offensive line. It's almost funny (or terribly sad) to think that at this time last year, we were running around like chickens without heads over the quarterback (well not really until March) and defense while the O-Line seemed to be our biggest strength. Today, Orton has earned himself at least another year as the starter and perhaps a lengthy contract extension afterward. While the defense is still an issue, we at least have some solid pieces to build around. Meanwhile we're looking at the need for at least 2, perhaps 3, new starters on an offensive line prepared to change philosophies. In earlier mocks, there has been a decent amout of disagreement between what I'd like to see happen and what many of you would like to see happen - nevertheless, I'm bored at work today and so here's a mock off-season - focusing specifically on the offensive line - on my boss' dollar.
The easiest thing to say here is that we're fine at offensive tackle. Ryan Clady is young, tremendously talented, and is already a Top 5 left tackle in this league. Teamed with a healthy Ryan Harris, they make a Top 5 tackle-tandem. There are legitimate concerns in terms of that though. Harris is only 24 (turning 25 in March) but is already dealing with nagging back and toe injuries. Could he be healthy for the rest of his career? Of course. But we don't know that and we also haven't seen him play hurt. I don't particuarly like Polumbus or Gorin as spot starters, and so we need to look for a solid third tackle who can start in spots.
Top 3 Free-Agent Options:
You'll quickly see that, in terms of free agents, I put a heavy emphasis on unresticteds. Gandy is an unrestricted free agent coming out of a very potent offense in Arizona. He's a very good technician with a lot of experience. He's also a natural guard who could fill in as a starter there depending on how free agency plays out. He is, however, a little too old to bid on at this point and you wonder how willing he would be to be a spot starter for us when he's been a starter for the past 2 years on a playoff team.
Easily, in my opinion, the best tackle of us in the free agent crop. He's very athletic, has good strength, and has a lot of starting experience from his time in Jacksonville. The problem is that he's a restricted free agent and while Tom Cable isn't his biggest fan, he still was a reliable back-up for them and I don't see why the Raiders wouldn't tender him...but then again he's on the Raiders. If he winds up floating around the free agnent market, I think he should be a target at the right price.
Terry's inclusion in this list should tell you that we're probably better off drafting a tackle in the late rounds, but with most offensive tackles either signed or restricted free agents, I'm looking at RFA's who could be deemed expendable by their teams. Terry is enormous (actually too big by my standard) but is at least an average athlete with starting experience.
Overrated: Ciron Black - LSU - 6'5 325lbs -Draft Scout Round Projection - 4/5
I know a lot people have looked into him at guard too, but Les Miles seems to be a boom or bust coach when it comes to NFL talent and I think Black is a bust. LSU players, in recent years, have had issues with attitude and conditioning - I think Black could be such a player. He has sloppy technique, isn't particuarlly athletic, and plays about 10-15 pounds over ideal weight.
Underrated: Chris Marinelli - Stanford - 6'7 305lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 7
Smart guy who can move around the line and has a bit of an edge to him. With the sort of NFL offense Harbaugh is installing at Stanford, he may be worth a look if our draft puts us in a position where we can only spend a 7th rounder on a tackle.
Top 3 Draft Choices:
1. Mike Tepper - California - 6'5 325lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 6
Easily my favorite tackle among any I've mentioned above or in the next two spaces. He isn't tremendously athletic (when you're drafting a tackle in the 6th round you can't expect him to be) but he's adequate. Still, he's very strong, good size, and good footwork. He's a mauler. He played both right and left tackle in a fairly complex system under guru Jeff Tedford. I think for the cost (presumably a late round pick) he is a good bet to be a solid backup/spot starter for us.
2. Sam Young - Notre Dame - 6'7.5 305lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 5/6
Similar to Tepper in terms of skill set. He's smart and has good power, but he lacks the mean-streak that I like from Tepper and may actually be selected ealier. One thing going for him is that Weis's system likely prepared him well for what McDaniels wants and so he may be ahead of the learning-curve in terms of the playbook.
3. Kevin Haslam - Rutgers - 6'5 304lbs - Draft Scount Round Projection - 5/6
Anthony Davis is the Rutgers tackle who gets the majority of the attention, and rightfully so, but Haslam was by no means a weak point for Rutgers this past season. He has good quickness, is physical, can hold his own against the pass rush while also being a part of Rutger's vaunted running attack. He also has some versatility and can play guard. His strength concerns me and lowers his draft stock, but again, I'm specifically looking at late round options here and nobody is going to be perfect.
I think this is the position met with the most confusion on MHR. I think that some people hear "Power running game" and they think that that means 320-330 pound guards. It absolutely doesn't. There is a huge difference between what Denver did in 2008 and what teams like Pittsburgh and Dallas do - which is more drive blocking with huge lineman. Denver wants to do something in between the two. If you take the 10 starting guards from the Top 5 rushing teams this season, you'll find that they average in at 6'4 310 pounds. The Jets, who possess an offensive line I'd like Denver to emulate and who was the #1 rushing team in the NFL last season, had both of their guards weighing in at 305. Considerably bigger than Ben Hamilton mind you, but not jumbo guys. Agility and technique still prove more valuable than bulk in this system. Also, keep in mind what McDaniels said about next season's running game. "There will be some zone in there, but we're not going to major in it." I don't think we're going to see a drastically different kind of player that we've seen in the past, just a little added bulk. 305 instead of 285. With that in mind...
Top 3 Free Agent Options:
In my opinion, Amano should be our #1 out-of-house free agent priority (Doom still gets #1 overall) and there are many reasons for it. For one, he's an unrestricted free agent and so while there will certainly be a bidding war between us, Tennessee, and several other teams - we won't need to compensate draft picks as we would have to for some of my other free agent guards (Harvey Dahl, Logan Mankins, Marshal Yanda). Two, the elite level the Titan's O-Line played with this season speaks for itself. Amano is powerful, tenacious, and led the way for Chris Johnson on many of his runs. He's also a natural center, so if were to obtain him, we could see what happens in the draft. If we get a center we really like, he can be our left guard, if we find a guard he could be our center. He's a very good but not elite player, though I really think he should be a priority.
There's no reason for us not to high or middle tender him. None. Everybody talks about how Eddie Royal got shammed this season, and he did, but Kuper really got a raw deal. He played the entire season next to an overwhelmed Casey Wiegmann and most of it between Wiegmann and Tyler Polumbus. He was still pretty good. If you tender him and force a team to give up a 2nd rounder to get him, you likely keep him and if you don't you get a good value for him. If you keep him, you have insurance if things don't work out with Amano. If you tender him and wind up still getting Amano, you have both your starting guards and it affords you the opportunity to pick up a guard later in the draft, take a good look at Kuper this season and either sign him long term in 2011 or replace him with Seth Olsen or whoever we pick up in this year's draft. I see no reason why he won't be tendered and given a long look at- especially if he's able to bulk up a bit during the offseason.
I could put down going after a restricted free agent (Dahl, Manks, Yanda) here, or UFAs Stephen Neal from New England or Chester Pitts from Houston (but they'll 34 and 31 years old this season). However I can almost guarantee that Kuper will be on our roster next season (hopefully with Amano) and so I look at depth here instead. He played mostly zone in Houston, but he has the size for what we're looking for and still has some upside. The primary reason I list him here is that he's a CSU alum and would perhaps give a hometown discount.
Overated: 1A: Mike Iupati - Idaho - 6'5 325lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 1/2
I realize that I'm probably the only person on MHR who isn't drooling over Iupati and by saying that he's overrated, I don't mean to imply that he isn't the best guard in the draft - because I think he is. My problem is that it seems more and more like we'd need to spend a mid to late 1st rounder on him and I just don't like the idea of spending such a high pick on a lineman who isn't protecting the blindside or making the calls at the line. I'm a believer in building teams with 2nd -4th round picks. Plus, and this is knit-picking - Iupati has had trouble with footwork and blocking on the move. Are these technical aspects that can be learned? Yes. But if I'm spending a Top 25 pick on a guard, he better be flawless. Iupati is not.
Underrated: Ed Wang - Virginia Tech - 6'5 315lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 4/5
Good agility and good feet with good hand placement and great size. Wang, a tackle at Virgina Tech, has some trouble with bull rushers and has short arms which leads many to believe that he's better suited as a guard. If he is, he'd be a solid pick as a developmental player/possible future starter.
Top 3 Draft Options:
Mike Johnson - Alabama - 6'5 306lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 2/3
Aside from Iupati, he's probably the only rookie in this draft who can be counted on to start from day one. He plays with a lot of power, is technically very sound, and has the versatility to slide over to tackle if needed (he played a few games at LT in 2008). What he did as a pulling guard at Alabama against top-notch competition speaks for itself. If you're a team, like us, looking to get mor physical up front, it certainly wouldn't hurt to pick up an All-American who had a lot to do with Mark Ingram's Heisman and the rushing attack that let Alabama to the title. His pass protecting ability is excellent for the guard position. Overall athleticism may be a concern and many of the scouting reports I've read wonder if he's already a finished product who may not offer a lot of upside. Still, a no-brainer pick if he slips too far into the 3rd round.
2. Mitch Petrus - 6'3 304lbs - Arkansas - Draft Scout Projected Round 3/4
I'll be the first to admit that I've become a bit of a guard tramp over the past few weeks. First it was Jon Asamoah (who will not appear on this list at all), then Mike Johnson (who I obviously still like), but now I think it's Mitch Petrus, who may very well have the biggest upside of any guard in the draft. There's a lot to like about Petrus. He's a former fullback and his footwork and agility indicate so. He plays with a mean streak. He had to sit out during 2008 (he changed majors and didn't meet credit requirements) but learned Bobby Petrino's pro-style offense well enough by just studying the playbook to start in 2009. His technique is surprisingly good for such a raw talent. Petrus will need to grow into his frame and add strength to become a consistent starter, but if he were afforded a little patience, that shouldn't be an issue for a guy who has already made the leap from back to lineman. In the mean time, he can immediately contribute in the 6th lineman/fullback role that McDaniels tried to use Hochstein in last season. Draft Scout has him as a 3/4 rounder, but most other draft sites have him as a sold 4th or 4/5th - so picking him would afford us the opportunity to look at defense earlier.
3. Shaun Lauvao - Arizona State - 6'3 301lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 5/6
The fact that Lauvao is thought of as a 5th/6th rounder says a lot about the depth of this draft class. In a lot of ways Lauvao is a poor man's Mitch Petrus. Like Petrus he played in a pro-style offense (under Dennis Erickson). Like Petrus he has good lateral movement, good leverage, and a mean streak. Also, like Petrus his main concern will be to bulk up and add more strength at the next level. The only thing Petrus has that Lauvao doesn't, is the upside. Lauvao has been a guard for his entire career and so he's a lot closer to his ceiling than Petrus is. Still, if the draft didn't work out (as it sometimes tends to do) and we missed some of our keyed-in-on players in the earlier rounds, Lauvao would be a good value as a project, but is still some time away from being a starter in all likelihood.
To me, this is our biggest need not only on the offensive line, but on our offense as a whole. If we were to completely crumple in free agency and in the draft, we'd still have Seth Olsen and Chris Kuper at guard and while we wouldn't be where we want to be, we'd be serviceable. Casey Wiegmann CANNOT be our center going into next season. I don't feel comfortable with him even being our backup. That isn't a knock on Wiegmann (well it sort of is) it's just that he's an aging player who doesn't have the size or strength to hold up with what we want to do. I think he's a big reason why we couldn't run on short yardage and I think he, in a lot of ways, held our guards back. Personally, I much rather have 5 very good players up front than 2 Pro-Bowlers and 3 adequate starters. You need balance up front and that's what we need to address this offseason by getting younger and more physical at the center position.
Top Free Agent Options
1. Russ Hochstein - Denver Broncos - 6'4 305lbs - 32 years old
It says a lot about this year's free agent class that Russ Hochstein goes #1 here, but there are 2 things to consider. 1. Going after Eugene Amano could address our center needs depending on what we do in the draft and the rest of free agency. 2. Hochstein should absolutely be brought back and if he does, we could do a lot worse than him as a short-term center solution. I have us keeping Kuper while also drafting another guard in the draft and still, maybe, another in free agency. We may be relatively settled then at guard, but Hochstein also spend time at center and right tackle in New England and that sort of versatility is too valuable to lose when we have questionable depth at tackle and no options at center going into 2010 (I think Weigmann is gone). If we pick up a guy who can start right away in free agency (Amano) or the draft than Hochstein is still a valuable backup center/tackle. If we draft a guy in the middle-rounds, Hochstein can start until he's ready. When you're only able to carry 8 or 9 linemen on a 53 man roster, versatility to play 4 positions is incredibly valuable. No reason not to sign him to a contract.
Leckey has is pros and cons. He's a UFA, athletic, tough, and has starting potential so he would be a more than qualified backup/possible starter. The bad news is that he's very much a younger version of Casey Wiegmann, more suited for zone-blocking than anything else. While I think his youth would make him less likely to get pushed around like Wiegmann has, I'd still prefer a guy with a little more strength.
Norman would be a decent value pick. He saw action in 8 games last year and has the size we lacked in Wiegmann last season. Still though, I don't know how comfortable I'd feel with him and a rookie going into camp as our two centers and feel as though Hochstein or Leckey gives us considerably more security.
Eric Olson - Notre Dame - 6'4 310lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 6
I've seen this name come up in a lot of MHR mocks and I just don't like him, even as a "value pick". Thanks to Notre Dame's contract with NBC, I (unfortunately) watched a lot of Notre Dame games this past year and saw Jimmy Claussen (God I hate him) get pressure in his face far too quickly due to poor blitz pick up. That falls directly onto the shoulders of the center. Combined with inconsistent drive on his run blocks, I can see Olsen as a solid backup or maybe even a guy who could start in a few years, but he isn't the answer for a team with no center to speak of at the moment.
Underrated: Kevin Matthews - Texas A&M - 6'4 310lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - UFA
Obviously, I'm not suggesting Matthews is our starting center or even our future starting center. What I am saying is that he grew up on football (son of Bruce Matthews), is very technically sound and tenacious, and may very well go undrafted. Even if we retain Hochstein, he's already in the final years of his career. Matthews may be a solid practice squad player and potential back-up in the future.
Top 3 Draft Choices:
1. Maurkice Pouncey - Florida - 6'5 315lbs - Draft Scount Round Projection - 1/2
Easily my favorite lineman in the draft and the major reason why I don't like Iupati (it would be near impossible to get them both). Pouncey may be the most complete lineman in the draft - we all know what he did with the run, Tebow was kept clean in the pocket, he's powerful, agile, and plays mean. Best of all, he'll probably be drafted after Iupati. If McXanders is in love with Rolando McClain (as I am) we could stand pat in the 2nd round (he may fall that low) or trade up a little and pick him up in the early 2nd. If they feel as if Micah Johnson is just as good, they can trade out of the 10/11 pick and reach a little for Pouncey in the late 1st. Pouncey is a rare talent and could probably start for us off the bat.
2. J.D Walton - Baylor - 6'2 300lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 3
Walton has appeared in both of my mock drafts and, while he isn't as polished as Pouncey, certainly has starter potential. He's very powerful, very (sometimes overly) competitive and is used to run blocking from shotgun formations. He's a little short and plays a little too aggressive at times, but he's a very good option should another team outbid us for Pouncey or if we decided improving the defensive front 7 should take precedent in the first and second rounds.
3. Ted Larsen - North Carolina State - 6'2 302lbs - Draft Scout Round Projection - 4
In a lot of ways Larsen reminds me of Mitch Petrus. He's new to the offensive line (started his career at NC State as a DT), has good lateral quickness and burst off the line, and finishes blocks well. His upside could be huge. On the other hand, he still needs to get stronger and improve his craft. Definitely a solid potential starter if Pouncey or Walton are both taken early, but not somebody I'd pass on either of them for.
What we do:
I don't resign Gorin. I do resign Russ Hochstein to a 2 year deal and middle tender Chris Kuper (a team would have to give us a 2nd rounder in compensation.) The more I read about Eugene Amano, the more I think he'll come a lot cheaper that one would expect for the best UFA at his position. Tennessee has yet to engage Amano is contract discussions and are unwilling to spend too much more than the 1.3M he made last season. I have us outbidding them.
This is a very touchy situation. I have us spending 2nd, 4th, and 6th rounders on linemen because I stil think there are needs at ILB, DL, and CB. In the second round I have us either trading up a little for Pouncey or trading back a little for Johnson. In the 4th we'd take Walton, Larsen, or Petrus and in the 6th, Tepper.
For the purposes of this post we take Pouncey, Petrus, and Tepper.
We cut Tyler Polumbus
53-Man Roster Depth Chart
LT 1. Clady 2. Tepper 3. Olsen
LG 1. Amano 2. Olsen 3. Hochstein
C 1. Pouncey 2. Hochstein 3. Olsen
RG 1. Kuper 2. Petrus 3. Hochstein
RT 1. Harris 2. Tepper 3. Hochstein