Unit Analysis: Ranking O-lines? Go figure

The Sports Xchange

July 09, 2014 at 8:59 am.

Joe Staley protects Colin Kaepernick's blind side at a high level. (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

By Frank Cooney, founder The Sports Xchange and

Discussions to determine the best and worst offensive lines in the NFL are about as clear and convincing as the statistics that accurately reflect the effectiveness of this important unit.

Exactly. There is no such stat.

Oh, there are imaginative equations that include quarterback drop-backs, coverage sacks, down-and-distance and number of pass plays called on a rainy day. Well, we’re kidding about the rainy day part, but the point remains, stats don’t tell the story for most O-lines except for some extreme cases — the very, very good or bad. That is because there are too many “yeah-buts” attached to most statistics used to measure offensive lines.

Sacks yielded per drop-back or yards per rush are often referenced in an attempt to quantify the work of offensive linemen.

A team with numerous sacks might point to contributing factors: receivers who can’t get open, quarterbacks (especially inexperienced ones) who hold onto the ball too long or go through their progression of reads too slowly. … and, conversely, a low number of sacks may not say much about the front wall if the quarterback is named Dan Marino or Peyton Manning, two of the quickest triggers in NFL history.

And yards per carry can be skewed by the breakaway talents of a gifted back who gains yards despite the inability of his offensive line.

Classic chicken-and-egg stuff.

Regardless, reporters covering each team for The Sports Xchange were asked to analyze offensive lines. The results are presented here team-by-team to be combined with whatever stat or stats readers prefer in an attempt to give some rank and order to the subject.

Generally speaking, which is a copout way to avoid the truthful IMO, Dallas, San Francisco, New England and Philadelphia have good offensive lines and Denver may or may not depending on how much weight is placed on the Manning factor. Seattle, the Super Bowl champion, is among the worst two or three in the league.

And that sad ranking of the Seahawks’ line makes running back Marshawn Lynch and Beast Mode all the more impressive. And can’t you just hear those intense 12th-man fans from Seattle objecting to such a low ranking, with a “yeah, but two key linemen were injured most of last season.” And so it goes.

Here is analysis from TSX reporters on each team’s offensive line for fans to mix and match with whatever statistics they deem appropriate. Teams are listed alphabetically, which may be the only inarguable way to rank offensive lines:


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Jared Veldheer, LG Jonathan Cooper, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Paul Fanaika, RT Bobby Massie. Backups – G/T Nate Potter, G Earl Watford, T Bradley Sowell, G/C Ted Larsen, G/C Anthony Steen, C Philip Black.

There will be at least three new starters and possibly four. Left tackle has been a need for years, and the Cardinals signed Veldheer in free agency. They think he can be elite. Cooper, the seventh overall pick in 2013, didn’t play as a rookie after suffering a broken leg. He wasn’t 100 percent in offseason practices, but coaches think he will be by the start of training camp. Sendlein is a smart, solid veteran who holds the unit together. Fanaika is being challenged by Earl Watford. No matter who wins the job, the position will be a weakness until someone proves otherwise. Massie emerged from the offseason as the starter, but his hold on the job is tenuous. He’s being challenged by Sowell and Potter, and the Cardinals have also looked outside for help. They worked out Tyson Clabo in June and re-signing Eric Winston, last year’s starter, remains a possibility.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Joe Hawley, RG Jon Asamoah, RT Jake Matthews. Backups – TLamar Holmes, T Ryan Schraeder, T Terren Jones, C Peter Konz, C James Stone, G Mike Johnson, G Gabe Carimi, G Adam Replogle, G Harland Gunn.

The Falcons mis-assessed the readiness of Konz and Holmes to take over for Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo last season. Coupled with weak play by right guard Garrett Reynolds, who was released, and retread tackle Jeremy Trueblood and the Falcons were leaking oil before most games started. The unit gave up 44 sacks and couldn’t open up any holes in the run game as the Falcons were last in the league in rushing at 77.9 yards per game. Asamoah was added in free agency and Matthews was selected sixth overall in the draft. The Falcons are hoping that Baker (knee surgery) can return to good health. New position coach Mike Tice will try to whip the unit into shape.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Eugene Monroe, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Rick Wagner. Backups — LT James Hurst, LT David Mims, LG John Urschel, C Gino Gradkowski, C Reggie Stephens, RG A.Q. Shipley, RG Will Rackley, RT Ryan Jensen, RT Jah Reid, RT Parker Graham, RT Brett Van Sloten.

The Ravens re-signed Monroe as the cornerstone of their line to a $37.5 million contract. Osemele looked good during the spring after undergoing back surgery last fall. Zuttah should be an upgrade at center after arriving via an offseason trade. Yanda is the lone Pro-Bowl selection and is the mainstay of the line. Wagner is the biggest question mark as a first-time starter at right tackle. Gradkowski is the primary backup inside after starting every game at center last season.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Cordy Glenn, LG Chris Williams, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears. Backups – G Doug Legursky, T Cyrus Koundjio, OL Antoine McClain, T Chris Hairston, G J.J. ‘Unga, G Mark Asper, G Cyril Richardson, T Seantrel Henderson, OL Edawn Coughman, C Macky MacPherson.

The emphasis for the Bills up front was to get big, athletic men, and that’s what they did in the draft by choosing Kouandjio, Richardson and Henderson. Taking all 15 men into account, they now have the heaviest line in the NFL. Williams was a free-agent signing, but he really hasn’t distinguished himself in the NFL. Glenn and Wood are excellent, and Urbik is a grunt who quietly gets the job done. The big battle will be at right tackle where Kouandjio was drafted to replace Pears. However, he still has to beat out the veteran. The battle for backup spots will be hot, and it’s tough to tell who will emerge, but if Henderson can impress, the Bills – based on his potential – might have to keep him. There’s a chance Pears will get cut, so that would open up a backup tackle spot.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Nate Chandler, LG Amini Silatolu, C Ryan Kalil, RG Trai Turner, RT Byron Bell. Backups – C Brian Folkerts, C Jared Wheeler, G Derek Dennis, G Edmund Kugbila, G Andrew Norwell, G Chris Scott, T David Foucault, T Kevin Hughes, T Oscar Johnson, T Andrew McDonald, T Garry Williams.

The departure of former franchise left tackle Jordan Gross created a void that will be hard to fill. Chandler and Bell will continue their battle in camp, but whoever wins the job will take his lumps. Kalil is as rock solid as they come at center. Turner, who turned 21 in June, played with the ones in offseason workouts, and it is hard to see him giving the job up. Silatolu is coming off ACL surgery, but the team believes he can get back to the form that saw him improving early in 2013. Depth here is not good.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson, C Roberto Garza, RG Kyle Long, RT Jordan Mills. Backups – G/T James Brown, G/T Eben Britton, C Brian de la Puente, C Taylor Boggs, G James Dunbar, G Ryan Groy, T Cody Booth, T Charles Leno Jr., T Joe Long, T Michael Ola.

Only Mills last year displayed a big need for improvement, as one of the least effective pass blockers at tackle in the NFL according to the stat geeks at Still, he was light years ahead of past tackles. Bushrod proved to some skeptics that he was an effective left tackle after coming over from New Orleans. Slauson was good enough at guard to warrant a new contract and Long made the Pro Bowl, albeit as a reserve. Garza is 35 and the unquestioned leader of the line. It would seem that signing de la Puente gave them an insurance policy in case age catches up with him. Garza never has been a standout short-yardage blocker, but is dependable to very good in the regular running game and in pass blocking.

This line has more depth than some other recent Bears lines, as de la Puente, Brown and Britton all have played before. Britton, Ola and Leno Jr. could be challengers for Mills if he slips. Overall a weak short-yardage and goal-line blocking group that needs to become more consistent in the running game. Much improved as pass blockers, but the scheme also allows for shorter pass drops and helps them here.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Mike Pollak, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith. Backups – C Russell Bodine, C Trevor Robinson, C T.J. Johnson, T Marshall Newhouse, T/G Dan France, T Curtis Feigt, G Tanner Hawkinson, G Trey Hopkins, T Will Svitek, G Chandler Burden.

The tackles and right guard are set with Whitworth, Smith and Zeitler holding down starting spots. Beyond that, the interior positions get interesting. Boling (ACL) and Pollak (knee) are both recovering from injuries. They hope to be back for training camp, but it is yet to be seen when they could actually contribute. A challenger at center, now without released starter Kyle Cook, is fourth-round pick Russell Bodine. He’s powerful and nasty, but had trouble snapping the ball during OTAs. It would be nervous time if he started Week 1 across from Haloti Ngata. The versatile Tanner Hawkinson and undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins have a good chance to latch onto the back end of the roster.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C Alex Mack, RG John Greco, RT Mitchell Schwartz. Backups – G Garrett Gilkey, G Jason Pinkston, G/T Paul McQuistan, T Reid Fragel, T Jeremiah Warren, G Chris Faulk, T Keavon Milton, T Randall Harris, C Alex Parsons, T Martin Wallace.

Shanahan is a big believer in zone blocking. The Browns’ offensive line is built with athletic players more than bulldozers, which is a reason general manager Ray Farmer used the 35th pick on Bitonio. Thomas is in his eighth season. Mack is in his sixth and though he has been to the Pro Bowl twice he has yet to play on a winning team. Pettine is his fourth head coach. The Browns have depth on the offensive line, particularly inside with McQuistan and Gilkey. One year ago, the Browns scored four rushing touchdowns. That number should increase greatly with better running backs and better blocking.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Tyron Smith, LG Ron Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, RT Doug Free. Backups – G Mackenzy Bernadeau, G Brian Clarke, G Andre Cureton, G Tyronne Green, G Ronald Patrick, G Uche Nwaneri, T Josh Aladenoye, T Darius Morris, T Jermey Parnell, T John Wetzel.

The Cowboys want to win as they did in the 1990s when they were led by a dominant offensive line. They continued on that path in the draft with the selection of Martin with the 16th overall pick. He is the third first-round pick to be used on an offensive lineman in the last four years, joining tackle Tyron Smith in 2011 and center Travis Frederick in 2013. Smith is the anchor of the unit and is coming off his first Pro Bowl and he is still only 23.

Frederick was a walk-in starter and immediately became one of the best in the league. Look for Martin to start out at right guard before replacing Free at right tackle in 2015. Free had a bounce-back season at tackle in 2013 after being forced to take pay cut to keep his job, but he is in the last year of his contract. The only battle in camp will be at left guard where Leary, last year’s starter, will compete with Bernadeau and former Jacksonville Jaguars starter Nwaneri for the starting job.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Ryan Clady, LG Orlando Franklin, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Chris Clark. Backups — T Winston Justice, T/G Michael Schofield, C/G Will Montgomery, T Vinston Painter, G Ben Garland, C Max Paradis, T Paul Cornick, T Ryan Miller, T Aslam Sterling.

The return of Clady from a Lisfranc injury bolsters the unit. But Clark performed well enough in his stead last year to justify a move to right tackle, where he will grapple with Justice for the starting spot. That position opened up after Franklin was shifted to left guard, replacing free-agent departure Zane Beadles. Franklin was a guard for the majority of his college career, and looked comfortable working there during organized team activities. Ramirez has cemented his role in the starting lineup; he and his former college teammate, Vasquez, have excellent communication and do well setting up the rest of the line. Montgomery, a starter in Washington the last three seasons, is likely the first backup off the bench. Schofield is an option at right tackle if Clark and Justice struggle, but the Broncos would like to give him this year to develop. The wild cards are Painter, Garland and Paradis. Painter spent last year on the practice squad; he is athletic, but raw. Garland has been on the practice squad the last two years and was converted from defensive tackle to guard last year; he is a favorite of the coaches, but needs to show progress to have a chance at the 53-man roster. Paradis, a sixth-round pick, could be the center of the future, but he has to stick on the roster first.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Riley Reiff, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Larry Warford, RT LaAdrian Waddle. Backups — T Corey Hilliard, G/C Travis Swanson, T Cornelius Lucas, G/C Rodney Austin, T Michael Williams, T/G Bryce Quigley, C Darren Keyton, T J.B. Shugarts, G Alex Bullard, G D.J. Morrell, G A.J. Dalton.

The Lions had one of the top offensive lines in the league last season, and drafting Swanson in the third round and signing undrafted free agent Lucas gives them young depth and optimism for the future. Reiff needs to play better after an average season, and Sims could be pushed after an injury-riddled 2013. But overall, this is a team strength. Williams is a wild card for a roster spot because he’s moving from tight end, but has the size and smarts to make the transition.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C JC Tretter, RG T.J. Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups – T/G Don Barclay, T Derek Sherrod, C Garth Gerhart, C Corey Linsley, G Lane Taylor, T Aaron Adams, G Andrew Tiller, G Jordan McCray, T John Fullington, T Jeremy Vujnovich.

A year removed from a radical shakeup along the line, McCarthy left untouched the rock-solid left side with established all-star Sitton after he made a seamless transition from right guard and Bakhtiari, who held his own as a rookie starter all season. Changes still came in the offseason. Bulaga, the former first-round draft pick who missed the 2013 season because of a knee injury, is back at right tackle after his brief move to left tackle a year ago. However, Bulaga, in his fifth pro season, or sixth-year Lang may have to ward off Barclay to keep their starting jobs. Barclay, a rugged and flexible third-year player, has 33 pro starts under his belt as he took over for the injured Bulaga at right tackle last season. Meanwhile, the team is going on its fourth starting center in as many seasons, giving the duties to Tretter for the here and now. Tretter, a converted tackle, didn’t play last season after he suffered a significant leg injury in spring workouts. Gerhart, a first-year player who spent most of last season on Green Bay’s practice squad, and Linsley, a fifth-round draft pick out of Ohio State this year, could push Tretter in the preseason. The bullish Taylor provides depth at guard going into his second season. Sherrod, the disappointing 2011 first-round draft pick, is finally healthy after missing the 2012 season and the first part of last season because of a broken leg. He backed up Bakhtiari this spring. Adams, a first-year player who spent all of last season on the team’s practice squad, has potential as an understudy at right tackle.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, C Chris Myers, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Derek Newton. Backups – LT Will Yeatman, LT Matt Feiler, LG Ben Jones, LG Cody White, C James Ferentz, C Conor Boffell, RG Alex Kupper, RT Brennan Williams, RT Anthony Dima, RT Bryan Witzmann.

When the Texans were 12-4 and a division winner in 2011-12, the line was strong. Last season, it was mediocre. Brown and Newton played with nagging injuries. Brooks was a first-time starter. Myers was the most consistent. Su’a-Filo was the 33rd overall pick and should beat out Jones for a starting job. Brown had become a premier left tackle until turf toe hampered him last season. To be successful, the line’s got to stay healthy and improve across the board. Newton was coming off knee surgery and was a weak link most of the season. The coaches didn’t draft a replacement for him. Jones can play either guard or center and has become a valuable backup. Williams missed his rookie season and the offseason program because of microfracture surgery on his knee and might never contribute. Yeatman, coming off ACL surgery in Miami, has the inside track to the swing tackle job. Expect them to sign another veteran tackle before camp.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Donald Thomas, C Khaled Holmes, RG Hugh Thornton, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups – T Jack Bruckner, C Jonotthan Harrison, T Ulrick John, G Lance Louis, C FN Lutz, G/T Jack Mewhort, T Xavier Nixon, G Joe Reitz, G Josh Walker.

There are still some kinks to work out among the first unit. Castonzo, Holmes and Cherilus are probably the only sure things in terms of a starting group. Thomas is due back from injury issues that cost him all of last season. Thornton had an up-and-down rookie season. Holmes remains a bit of a question mark as he will be in his first year as a starter at center. Mewhort and/or Louis are strong contenders to win starting roles at guard.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Donald Thomas, C Khaled Holmes, RG Hugh Thornton, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups – T Jack Bruckner, C Jonotthan Harrison, T Ulrick John, G Lance Louis, C FN Lutz, G/T Jack Mewhort, T Xavier Nixon, G Joe Reitz, G Josh Walker.

There are still some kinks to work out among the first unit. Castonzo, Holmes and Cherilus are probably the only sure things in terms of a starting group. Thomas is due back from injury issues that cost him all of last season. Thornton had an up-and-down rookie season. Holmes remains a bit of a question mark as he will be in his first year as a starter at center. Mewhort and/or Louis are strong contenders to win starting roles at guard.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Luke Joeckel, LG Zane Beadles, C Mike Brewster, RG Jacques McClendon, RT Austin Pasztor. Backups – T Cam Bradfield, RT Sam Young, LT Josh Wells, RG Brandon Linder, LG Drew Nowak, LG Tyler Shatley, C Luke Bowanko, C Patrick Lewis, C Matt Stankiewitch.

With four new starters along the line, there are plenty of question marks. Pasztor is the only one in the group that can be considered a returning starter on this team. He started the last 12 games at right tackle. That’s where Joeckel was until he was moved to his more natural position of left tackle. That didn’t even last a quarter of a game before he went out with a fractured ankle. Beadles is the veteran of the group, having been a Pro-Bowl pick at the left guard spot. Teamed with a healthy Joeckel, it should give the Jaguars a formidable left side to run behind. But that’s offset with the inexperienced right side where center Mike Brewster has started just two NFL games, both as a guard. Same holds true for the right-guard spot where McClendon has only started twice, both at left guard. Linder will push him in training camp and the third-round pick could end up winning the job. Bradfield, rookie Bowanko and either McClendon or Linder will provide the backup help as the three non-starters on the offensive line.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Eric Fisher, LG Jeff Allen, C Rodney Hudson, RG Zach Fulton, RT Donald Stephenson. Backups – G/T Jeff Linkenbach, T Ryan McKee, T J’Marcus Webb, G Rokevious Watkins, C Eric Kush, G Rishaw Johnson, G Otis Hudson, G Ricky Henry, G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, C Ben Gottschalk.

It took time last year for the Chiefs’ offensive front to come together, but over the second half of the season, they provided running room for RB Jamaal Charles and good pass protection for QB Alex Smith. But the starting group for 2014 has been restructured due to free-agent departures. Last year’s NFL first draft pick moves to left tackle, but Fisher’s offseason was limited as he recovered from shoulder and sports hernia surgeries. At right guard, there appears to be an open competition between Fulton, Linkenbach and Johnson. As the team closed out spring practices, Fulton was running with the first team.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Branden Albert, LG Dallas Thomas, C Mike Pouncey, RG Dallas Thomas, RT Ja’Wuan James. Backups — LT Nate Garner, LG Billy Turner, C Sam Brenner, RG David Arkin, RT Jason Fox, T Michael Phipp, C Tyler Larsen, G Evan Finkenburg, G Devonte Wallace, G Samuel Longo.

This remains a major concern. Miami seems to have upgraded in talent with Albert, the Pro-Bowl player signed from Kansas City, and James, the first-round pick from Tennessee. And the Dolphins seem to have linemen better suited for the zone blocking scheme. But they’ll also take the field for the opener with five new starters. That’s not ideal. And with Pouncey (hip) out for all of training camp and possibly the first two games, things get more complicated as far as learning a new offense and communicating. Depth is also a concern. Keep an eye on this unit.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Matt Kalil, LG Charlie Johnson, C John Sullivan, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Phil Loadholt. Backups – C Joe Berger, LG Vladimir Ducasse, RG Jeff Baca, LG David Yankey, LT Kevin Murphy, T Pierce Burton, T Matt Hall, C Zac Kerin, G/T Mike Remmers, LT Antonio Richardson, G Austin Wentworth.

Kalil, the fourth overall pick in 2012, took a step back as a second-year player. He’s also coming off knee surgery that sidelined him throughout most of the offseason work. He needs to play with more desire and consistently after a season that saw him whiff too often. Johnson likely will retain his starting job, but it won’t be handed to him after a poor season. Same goes with Fusco, although he played better than Johnson did a year ago. The Vikings signed Ducasse in free agency and drafted Yankey in the fifth round. They’ve also spent a year grooming Baca, a sixth-round pick last year, so they’re looking for more options at guard. And the team retained offensive line coach Jeff Davidson from Leslie Frazier’s staff, so there is continuity there. Sullivan also struggled last season, particularly with blitz and stunt packages. Loadholt is improving his consistency and is in the prime of his career at 28. Berger is a quality backup who can play all three interior positions at a temporary starting level. Murphy is Kalil’s primary backup, but the Vikings are intrigued by undrafted rookie Richardson, a mountain of a man who would have been drafted relatively high if not for a history of knee injuries.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer. Backups – T Marcus Cannon, T Cameron Fleming, OL Josh Kline, C Bryan Stork, G Jon Halapio, C/G Braxton Cave, C/G Chris Barker, T Jordan Devey, OL Chris Martin.

New England returns all five starters from a year ago, but that doesn’t mean those five are ensured of keeping their jobs. Solder is developing into a Pro-Bowl caliber left tackle, while Vollmer is at that level on the right side when healthy. Vollmer is coming off a broken leg, but is expected to be ready for opening day. Mankins hasn’t been as dominant in recent years, but remains a top guard and the tone setter for the line as a unit.

The intrigue comes at center and right guard. Wendell is an undersized center who’s seen a lot of action the last two seasons and has been exposed at times. He re-signed to a low-money deal and will certainly be challenged by the fourth-round pick Stork for the job. Wendell doesn’t have much position flexibility as a backup, so if he doesn’t win the starting job he could be looking for a new one elsewhere. Connolly is more versatile than Wendell and could return to center if he happens to lose out at right guard. Connolly has a cap number of more than $4 million that’s too high for a man of his limited, try-hard talents. Cannon has proven to be a solid backup at tackle and there is still some who believe he might be an option at guard as well. Fleming is a big, smart fourth-round pick who is seen as a pure right tackle, competing for a backup job out of the gates. Kline earned time as a fill-in a year ago and is a favorite developmental guy of the coaching staff. He’s practiced at all five line spots over the last year and that versatility is a prize in head coach Bill Belichick’s “the more you can do” world.

Halapio battled a torn muscle over his final season at Florida, but the sixth-round pick was thrown right into the deep interior line mix in spring practices and appears he’ll have a shot at competing for a roster spot if not a job. Cave spent time on the Patriots practice squad a year ago, but seems to be down the list of inside options at this point, as is the case with Barker. Devey and the late signing Martin are developmental types who’ll need to impress to stick around in the line program now being run by first-year assistant coach Dave DeGuglielmo.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Terron Armstead, LG Ben Grubbs, C Tim Lelito, RG Jahri Evans, RT Zach Strief. Backups — C Jonathan Goodwin, T Bryce Harris, G Senio Kelemete, T Marcel Jones, T Tavon Rooks, T Ty Nsekhe, C Matt Armstrong, T Manase Foketi, T Jason Weaver, T Thomas Welch.

The Saints certainly like what they have inside in Evans and Grubbs, who both made the Pro Bowl a year ago as solid run blockers and pass protectors, and on the edge with Armstead and Strief. Armstead, a third-round draft pick in 2013, was inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and was impressive after struggling in his debut. The question is at center after three-year starter Brian de la Puente didn’t get the contract he wanted and left in free agency. Lelito, a former undrafted free agent who made the team last season as a backup guard, will get a shot to win the job after playing well in the offseason although the veteran Goodwin is a nice fall-back if Lelito can’t nail it down. Harris and Kelemete appear to be in line as the other backups with one possible spot left for someone who can be a swing player at center/guard or tackle/guard.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Donald Thomas, C Khaled Holmes, RG Hugh Thornton, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups – T Jack Bruckner, C Jonotthan Harrison, T Ulrick John, G Lance Louis, C FN Lutz, G/T Jack Mewhort, T Xavier Nixon, G Joe Reitz, G Josh Walker.

There are still some kinks to work out among the first unit. Castonzo, Holmes and Cherilus are probably the only sure things in terms of a starting group. Thomas is due back from injury issues that cost him all of last season. Thornton had an up-and-down rookie season. Holmes remains a bit of a question mark as he will be in his first year as a starter at center. Mewhort and/or Louis are strong contenders to win starting roles at guard.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Brian Winters, C Nick Mangold, RG Willie Colon, RT Breno Giacomini. Backups – T Ben Ijalana, T Markus Zusevics, T Brent Qvale, G Will Campbell, G Caleb Schlauderaff, Patrick Ford, C Dalton Freeman, Oday Aboushi, Dakota Dozier.

Few draft picks in Jets history have provided as much bang for the buck as Mangold and Ferguson, a pair of 2007 draftees who once again displayed their uncommon durability last year. Mangold missed just two snaps while Ferguson played every snap and has missed just one snap in his career. They’ll likely be needed to serve as anchors again given the presence of a new right tackle in Giacomini, who has big shoes to fill as Austin Howard’s replacement, as well as the uncertainty at guard. Winters struggled for most of his rookie season while Colon bounced back from three injury-plagued seasons to play in all 16 games last season before tearing his biceps in the finale and then suffering a knee injury during his rehab. With an underwhelming set of backups, the Jets can ill-afford to lose Colon or anyone else. Head coach Rex Ryan talked up Campbell and Aboushi during OTAs, but neither player played a down last season as rookies. The Jets do have a pair of interesting sleepers in the rookie Dozier and in the veteran Zusevics, a one-time promising prospect who is trying to resurrect his career after missing two seasons with pectoral injuries.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Donald Penn, LG Khalif Barnes, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Austin Howard, RT Menelik Watson. Backups – G Gabe Jackson, C/G Kevin Boothe, T Matt McCants, T Dan Kistler, T Erle Ladson, G Tony Bergstrom, T Jack Cornell, G/T Jarrod Shaw, G Lamar Mady, G Lucas Nix.

Penn made it to the Pro Bowl as recently as 2011 but resembled a revolving door for the Bucs last season. The Raiders are counting on line coach Tony Sparano to get him closer to the 2011 level and protect the blind side. Ideally, Barnes is replaced by Jackson, a rookie third-round pick out of Mississippi State who can become a road grader alongside Wisniewski. That would free Barnes to be a utility player at every position on the line except center. Howard, a tackle with the Jets, will initially move inside to right guard, where the Raiders feel he is equipped to push defensive tackles backward. Whether he stays there depends on Watson, a second-year player whose rookie season was wiped out by injuries but has the skill set to start on either side. Boothe has two Super Bowl rings with the Giants and can back up at both guard spots as well as at center. McCants got some time last season and showed enough to be brought back. Bergstrom, a third-round draft pick two years ago, was drafted in a zone blocking system by a team that now utilizes more power-gap. Mady and Nix have both played by necessity and could get pushed out with more talent on hand.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Jason Peters, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, RG Todd Herremans, RT Lane Johnson. Backups – Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Denis Kelly, Michael Bamiro, Julian Vandervelde, Kevin Graf, David Molk, Andrew Gardner, Josh Andrews, Karim Bartin, Donald Hawkins.

The Eagles’ starting unit is one of the best and most athletic in the league. But there are questions of depth. Barbre is a versatile player who can play both inside and outside, but beyond him, there are not of proven backups. That wasn’t a problem last year. None of the Eagles’ five starters missed a game due to injury. Two – Peters and Mathis – went to the Pro Bowl, and a third – Kelce – should have. But Peters, Mathis and Herremans all are on the other side of 30. Herremans, who has 120 career starts, is coming off – for him – a sub-par year. Johnson, the fourth overall pick in the ’13 draft, played well after a rough early start. The line was instrumental in helping McCoy win the league rushing title, but needs to cut down on last year’s 46 sacks.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Kelvin Beachum, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups – T Mike Adams, C Cody Wallace, G/T Guy Whimper, G/T Wesley Johnson.

The return of Pouncey, who missed last season with a knee injury, should help boost a unit that struggled without him. The Steelers were ranked 27th in the league in rushing and had problems in protection until Roethlisberger fixed that issue at midseason by going to a no-huddle attack. Athletic and smart, Pouncey is the ideal center for the outside zone scheme. DeCastro, a first-round pick in 2012, had a strong season as did Foster. The biggest questions lie at the tackle positions. Beachum solidified the left tackle spot at midseason after Mike Adams failed to protect Roethlisberger’s blind side well enough. But Beachum (6-foot-3, 303) does not have prototypical size for a left tackle and must be a supreme technician to be successful. Gilbert has incentive to improve from his mediocre showing in 2013. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Adams, a second-round pick in 2012, has to learn how to pass protect if he wants to stay in the league long-term. Wallace was picked up off the waiver wire after Pouncey got hurt last season and played well when Fernando Velasco went down with an injury late in the season. Whimper is versatile and provided quality depth when the injury bug hit last season, but he might have to fight off Johnson for a roster spot. Johnson, a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt, has position flexibility as well.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Jake Long, LG Greg Robinson, C Scott Wells, RG Rodger Saffold, RT Joe Barksdale. Backups – G Davin Joseph, C Barrett Jones, C Tim Barnes, G Brandon Washington, T Mike Person, T Sean Hooey, C Demetrius Rhaney, T Mitchell Van Dyk, T Travis Bond, T Abasi Salimu.

Long’s health holds the key, especially at the start of the season. If he is ready coming back from ACL surgery, the unit is set. If not, the decision will be whether to slide the rookie Robinson to left tackle or move Saffold there. That would open a spot for Joseph, who was signed in the offseason after being released by Tampa Bay. There will also be an intriguing competition between Jones and Barnes. Jones is considered the heir apparent to Wells, but he wasn’t ready to play last season when Wells was injured, and Barnes got the nod. Barksdale is rarely talked about, but he continues to improve and was the only lineman to start all 16 games last season. Washington will also try to make a case for himself as a backup. Person and Hooey might battle for a backup tackle spot, although in the expected lineup, guards Robinson and Saffold could be the backups at tackle. Rookies Rhaney and Van Dyk have potential, but are probably headed to the practice squad.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT King Dunlap, LG Chad Rinehart, C Nick Hardwick, RG Jeromey Clary, RT D.J. Fluker. Backups – C/G Rich Ohrnberger, G Johnnie Troutman, T Nick Becton, G Chris Watt, T Mike Harris, G D.J. Johnson, C Nick McDonald, T Jeremiah Sirles, T Willie Smith, T Kenny Wiggins.

It’s amazing what this line did last year considering the injuries that had it in constant flux throughout the season. During the year there were 16 different combinations of players and six different starting lineups. Dunlap has to avoid concussions this year and Clary has to win a spot after undergoing hip and shoulder surgeries. Fluker is a stud at right tackle; Harris is an ample backup on either side. Ohrnberger supplies great depth, something he was forced to prove last year; Troutman has shown promise as well. Hardwick is in the sunset of his career and has to be watched in keeping him fit. Watt is a keeper, the rookie out of Notre Dame.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Alex Boone, RT Anthony Davis. Backups – T Jonathan Martin, G Adam Snyder, C Marcus Martin, G Joe Looney, G Ryan Seymour, G Brandon Thomas, G/C Dillon Farrell, G Fouimalo Fonoti, T Carter Bykowski.

The 49ers fielded arguably the best offensive line in football over the last two seasons and tried to add a significant amount of depth this spring. Starting C Jonathan Goodwin left and signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency making Kilgore the likely starter in the middle. However, San Francisco used a third-round pick on Marcus Martin, who many considered the best center available in the draft. Jonathan Martin was brought in via trade with the Dolphins for a conditional late-round pick and could prove as a valuable swing tackle should Staley or Davis be forced to miss some time. With Iupati entering the last year of his rookie contract, the team is grooming Martin to play guard much like they did with Boone before he took over the starting spot.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Russell Okung, LG James Carpenter, C Max Unger, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Michael Bowie. Backups – LT Alvin Bailey, LT Garry Gilliam, LG Caylin Hauptmann, LG Jared Smith, C Lemuel Jeanpierre, C Greg Van Roten, RG Stephen Schilling, RT Justin Britt, G Bronson Irwin, T Nate Isles.

While the Seahawks lost RT Breno Giacomini and G/T Paul McQuistan in free agency, they also return four of the starters from the Super Bowl in Okung, Carpenter, Unger and Sweezy. Those four appear set as the starters at their spots in 2014, assuming Okung recovers fully from offseason surgery to fix a toe injury that cost him eight games in 2013. Unger also battled through an assortment of injuries in 2013 and the Seahawks hope that a return to health of Unger and Okung will fix some of the issues the team had a year ago, particularly in pass blocking — Seattle allowed 44 sacks.

Carpenter was a pleasant surprise in the offseason with his conditioning and stamina, and the team thinks he may finally fulfill the potential that compelled the Seahawks to take him with their first pick in 2011. Sweezy is one of the team’s steadier players, and among the most athletic on the line.

Maybe the biggest position battle on the entire roster in training camp looms at right tackle behind second-year player Bowie and rookie Britt, taken with the second of the team’s two second-round picks. Bowie started nine games last season and was regarded as the heir apparent, but showed up to the offseason program a little overweight. Britt impressed during minicamp and OTAs with his quick feet and grasp of the playbook. Bailey looms as the backup at left tackle, but like Bowie came back a little out of shape.

Jeanpierre is a trusted backup who also appears likely to make the team. Hauptmann, who can play just about everywhere, also looks in good shape to make the roster as a versatile reserve. Schilling was an intriguing offseason pickup. He played sparingly in three seasons with the Chargers, but the Seahawks think he may be a good fit for their zone blocking scheme. Van Roten, who most recently played for Green Bay, could wage a battle for the backup center job. And the team is high on Gilliam, an undrafted free agent who saw lots of time at left tackle in OTAs and minicamp with Okung sidelined.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Anthony Collins, LG Carl Nicks, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Kadeem Edwards, RT Demar Dotson. Backups – G Patrick Omameh, G Oneil Cousins, T Kevin Pamphile.

The Bucs were last in the NFL in total offense last season, so Smith and new general manager Jason Licht believed an overhaul was necessary. They began by cleaning house on an overpriced, unproductive offensive line. Tackle Donald Penn and guard David Joseph were released. Center Jeremy Zuttah was traded. In their place, the Bucs signed Bengals free agent tackle Collins and Packers center Dietrich-Smith. The only returners are Dotson and Nicks, who has played nine games in two years. Nicks did not participate in the offseason but vows to be ready to go by training camp.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Michael Roos, LG Andy Levitre, C Brian Schwenke, RG Chance Warmack, RT Michael Oher. Backups – C/G Chris Spencer, T Taylor Lewan, G/T Byron Stingily, C/G Eric Olsen. C Gabe Ikard.

This group has been revamped over the past two seasons with only Roos surviving from when Ruston Webster first became general manager in 2012. He is in the final year of his contract, and has first-round pick Lewan waiting in the wings. Lewan could pull the upset and start this year, if he can beat out free-agent signee Oher on the right side. The interior group of Schwenke, Levitre and Warmack should be better with another year of working together. Behind the starters, Spencer was re-signed and will compete for a backup spot. Stingily has flashed in the past, but as with all of them, with a new regime will have to prove himself again in camp and preseason.


–OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Kory Lichtensteiger, RG Chris Chester, RT Tyler Polumbus. Backups – G-C Mike McGlynn, C Kevin Kowalski, G-T Maurice Hurt, T Tom Compton, G Josh LeRibeus, G Adam Gettis, T Morgan Moses, G Spencer Long, OL Tevita Stevens.

A year after ranking as a pleasant surprise, the line was a disappointment in 2013 even though all five starters started all 16 games. Center Will Montgomery, who had been in Washington longer any of his linemates, was cut in March as head coach Jay Gruden and holdover line coach Chris Foerster moved Lichtensteiger to the middle and put Lauvao, a free-agent signee from Cleveland, in his old left guard spot. Trouble is that it was the right side of Chester, now 31, and the tall but stiff Polumbus that was really the problem last year, especially in pass protection. Williams returned to the Pro Bowl for a second straight year in 2012, but he wasn’t as effective as he had been in 2012, especially down the stretch.

Former Philadelphia and Indianapolis starter McGlynn is the only truly experienced backup. Hurt, who started 21 games during his first two seasons, missed last season largely because he was out of shape, an affliction that has also plagued 2012 third-rounder LeRibeus which likely has them behind 2012 sixth-rounder Compton and 2012 fifth-rounder Gettis on the depth chart. Kowalski played in 12 games for Dallas in 2011-12 but he was out of the league in 2013. Moses and Long, both third-rounders this spring, could be starters as soon as 2015 but probably not this year. The former needs to readjust to the right side after two seasons at left tackle. Stevens, who’s back for a second straight summer and spent two years as a Mormon missionary, turns 27 on July 4 but has yet to make his NFL debut.

–Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame