2004 Offensive Line Rankings
- More Meat than a herd of cattle
Posted 8/20 by Bob Henry, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
The Prime Cuts
Green Bay Packers
Continuity means a lot and this group is loaded with experience and talent.
The Packers return all five starters from a unit that helped the team rank
among the league's top rushing offenses in 2003. Even with just an average
line, Favre is among the toughest QBs in the league to sack, so keep this in
mind thru the season and downgrade your team defense or IDPs (DL) when
matched up against this group.
A 2,000 yard season for Jamal Lewis is a great barometer of the Ravens run
blocking prowess. The Ravens re-signed Orlando Brown during the off-season
meaning all five starters return to provide stability and comfort for the
running game and 2nd year QB Kyle Boller.
Kansas City Chiefs
The loss of tackle John Tait hurts the right side of the line causing this
elite unit to slip back to the pack a little, but don't feel sorry for this
group. The Chiefs have options with Chris Bober and John Welbourn, who is
expected to replace Tait. Overall, they return all of the remaining four
starters and their depth is solid as well.
Losing legendary coach Alex Gibbs to Atlanta hurts, but the Broncos will be
fine with '03 top pick George Foster replacing Ephraim Salaam at right
tackle and the rest of starting unit returning intact. For anyone who
witnessed Quentin Griffin's pre-season showing, there is little doubt about
it - the Broncos line is the #1 reason why they annually are among the
league's most prolific offenses, especially on the ground.
What the Vikings lack in agility they make up for with girth and continuity.
Bryant McKinnie is a rising star and center Matt Birk is an established Pro
Bowler. The Vikings return all five starters and will once again remain a
key ingredient for one of the league's most prolific offenses.
Continuity is the key ingredient for grading offensive lines and the Hawks
return all five starters assuming they mend fences with their annual
holdout, Walter Jones, who continues to seek a long-term contract while
carrying the franchise tag moniker. Guard Steve Hutchinson is a budding Pro
Bowler for years to come. With a healthy Jones in fold this unit has the
potential to be among the elite offensive lines in the league.
Tarik Glenn headlines this group of unsung heros who perennially rank among
the league's best in sacks allowed. This line has been together for a few
years now, and despite losing Adam Meadows via free agency, they remain
among the league's top ranked units.
New Orleans Saints
LeCharles Bentley is a blossoming All-Pro as he slides inside to replace
veteran holdover Jerry Fontenot at center. Victor Riley and Wayne Gandy
provide a formidable pair of bookend tackles who pass protect well and
provide a good basis for the running game. With all five starters returning
and good depth this group is rock solid.
1st round pick Shawn Andrews joins a solid pair of tackles to help offset
the loss of guard John Welbourn. Artis Hicks and Jermane Mayberry will try
to fill Welbourn's shoes. Overall the line is solid, not but not
outstanding. Runyan gets dominated by strong pass rushers like Strahan at
times, but so do most tackles.
Adam Meadows was signed to replace Todd Steussie at right tackle, and then
retired a couple weeks ago. Jordan Gross is the most talented player and
the anchor for the line, he's making the switch to left tackle. Meanwhile
Jeno James bolted to Miami and Kevin Donnalley retired leaving the line thin
all of a sudden considering Todd Steussie is also gone. Matt Willig takes
over at RT backed up by Melvin Tutten. The interior consisting of RG Tutan
Reyes, C Jeff Mitchell and LG Doug Brzezinski is solid and the depth is
decent, but this much turnover suggests the Panthers line will take time to
come together, but it remains solid on paper.
The Bengals have a strong pair of tackles in LT Levi Jones and RT Willie
Anderson and 2nd year guard Eric Steinbach has Pro Bowl potential. Stacy
Andrews was drafted in the 4th round to be the swing tackle and Bobbie
Williams slides into Victor Leyva's spot at RG. The other four starting
spots remain unchanged. Depth could be a challenge if injuries strike, but
this group is solid in protection and quickl becoming a power when it comes
to the ground game. This group is on the rise.
New England Patriots
Damien Woody's loss is over-rated considering Dan Koppen started at center
during the team's run to their 2nd Super Bowl title. There's no stars
amongst this group, but like other positions on this team the coaching
staff seems to get the most from the talent at hand.
RT Maurice Williams is a pillar of strength as are Chris Naeole and Manuwai.
LT Mike Pearson must improve before this group realizes it's full
potential. Free agents Ephraim Salaam and Mike Compton bring much needed
competition and depth. All five starters return, which is a big plus and
this ranking could prove to be very conservative. The Jaguars have
re-tooled at the skill positions quite well and this offense could really
get rolling if this unit performs up to it's potential.
Brad Hopkins and Fred Miller appeared to be potential cap victims, but both
players return to man the tackles. The Titans benefit from continuity and
veteran leadership with five returning starters, but their depth will be
challenged and their play slipped slightly last season. They need the
infusion of youth and talent to make an impact soon.
The Jets were fortunate to add veteran LG Pete Kendall just before training
camp. The tackles consist of Jason Fabini and Kareem McKenzie, who are both
solid and experienced. Center Kevin Mawae is one of the league's best.
There's potential here don't be fooled, they looked weaker earlier in the
off-season but grabbing Kendall late in the game was a nice coop, even
though they paid dearly for him. Overall this group was middle of the pack,
but now could emerge during the season as a strong group and it wouldn't
surprise me if Curtis Martin and/or Lamont Jordan have strong seasons.
Brandon Moore and Brent Smith are the potential weak link at right guard.
The right side of the line got an overhaul adding Pro Bowler John Tait and
veteran guard Reuben Brown and center Olin Kruetz is one of the better
technicians in the league. It may take a little while before this line
comes together, but the Bears offensive production should improve
significantly this season as Rex Grossman becomes familiar with the
offense. Losing Rex Tucker in the pre-season for 10 weeks hurts, but Reuben
Brown is moving over to fill the gap as Mike Gandy was holding him off for
the starting RG job anyway. Even Aaron Gibson has looked good during the
This group played pretty well for the most part in 2003 but expect more
growth and improvement this year with the addition of free agent Damien
Woody at RG. Stockar McDougle and Jeff Backus give the Lions a solid tackle
combo, but depth at guard remains a concern where David Loverne remains the
starter at left guard. Solomon Page has been a bust so far. Joey Harrington
is the least sacked QB in the league, amazingly, but it's not all due to
the line's excellent pass protection. Harrington must mature this year and
hold the ball longer and work the deeper routes before this offense
blossoms. The Lion's offensive success will be directly proportional to
their success up front, but the talent is there.
St. Louis Rams
Orlando Pace and Kyle Turley form arguably the league's top tackle combo,
when healthy and signed! But that hasn't happened yet. The Rams desperately
need to sign Pace long-term. McCollum, Wohlabaugh and Timmerman formed a
strong veteran trio inside, but Wohlabaugh was cut in training camp leaving
the interior more questionable. Kyle Turley is out for another month or two
and Orlando Pace remains unsigned with the franchise tag again slapped on
him. Combined, these are some serious RED FLAGS for the Rams offense to be
sure. It might take a while for the Greatest Show on Turf to get off the
ground this year leaving Bulger more vulnerable as well. Then again, all
COULD be well and good once Pace signs and IF Turley's back allows him to
get back in the lineup. These two players are the key. No Turley is a bad
situation for the Rams especially Marshall Faulk and Marc Bulger.
Al Davis swung for the fences this offseason and connected by drafting LT
Robert Gallery and C Jake Grove in the draft, the best players at their
positions, and signing former Pro Bowl veteran RG Ron Stone. Depth is
improved and if the line comes together quickly Norv Turner's offense could
get off to a nice start. Gallery dislocated his elbow and will miss some
time, but they'll be fine. Both Gallery and Grove will probably start
immediately with 2nd year right tackle Langston Walker and veteran Barry
Sims at left guard.
The Cards big, beefy line might lack the quickness and athleticism needed to
really implement coach Denny Green's offense. Green certainly got their
attention early cutting Pete Kendall before training camp. Left tackle
Leonard Davis has unlimited potential, but must now play up to it. L.J.
Shelton now backs him up. Rookie Alex Stepanovich will start at center with
veteran Frank Garcia backing him up. The depth is good across the board. As
a whole, everyone just needs to live up to their potential because talent is
not the problem here. Guard could be a problem though with the unexpected
exodus of Kendall.
The return of Joe Gibbs and OL coach Joe Bugel should work wonders here, but
make no mistake about it - losing Jon Jansen is a hard blow to the gut for
this unit. Under Spurrier it seemed as though this group chronically
underachieved as the term "max protect" seemed to be missing from the
playbook. Bugel should deliver much better results even without Jon Jansen.
Chris Samuels, Randy Thomas and Derrick Dockery will lead the way. Kenyatta
Jones and Darryl Terrell will try to plug the gaping hole at right tackle.
Regardless, Mark Brunell should be safer behind this line than he was at any
time during his last couple seasons in Jacksonville. Let's see if he can
finally top 20 TDs now.
Former 1st round pick RT Mike Williams needs to keep improving if this line
has aspirations of ascending into the upper echelon. Reuben Brown's
departure won't hurt as much as some people might think. His play slipped
badly last season. The starting unit remains intact so continuity and
experience should yield better results in '04. The depth isn't bad either
with Marques Sullivan at guard, Marcus Price at RT and Richard seals at RG.
Free agent singings of RT Todd Wade and RG Zach Weigert help strengthen the
right side of the line. Wade is solid, but Weigert is merely a serviceable
veteran. This group might surprise. C Steve McKinney, LT Seth Wand and LG
Chester Pitts all have unfulfilled potential at this point, but they just
could also fuel a marked improvement for this group in 2004. The depth is
decent across the board and TE Mark Bruener is also a strong blocker for
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The coaching staff was unhappy with their line play in '03. So, they signed
several veteran free agents beginning with Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese,
and Matt Stinchcomb, all of which are expected to start. The team is
banking on improvement, but with this much turnover it could take a while.
Watch them during the pre-season for signs either way. The depth is strong
across the board so the Bucs offense should be better than average
especially considering that Chucky is behind the controls.
San Francisco 49ers
There's ample pressure on Kwame Harris to replace Derrick Deese at LT as
49ers are transitioning to youth at the cost of losing two former Pro Bowl
performers in Deese and Ron Stone. Expect some growing pains in 2004, but
for the long-term this group will be fine. Scott Gragg is a sturdy veteran
right tackle and Jeremy Newberry is solid at center. Gaurds Eric Heitmann
and Kyle Kosier will be the key to a strong running game, and as a unit
they'll have a tall order in keeping defenses at bay with their immobile QB
tandem of Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey. Would it be unreasonable to think we
could see Cody Pickett or Brandon Doman some time this year? Kevan Barlow
owners hope not.
Adding coach Alex Gibbs is a major addition behind the scenes, but you can't
make filet mignon out of ground chuck. The right side of the line will
anchor the line beginning with veteran right tackle Todd Weiner, RG Kynan
Forney and center Todd McClure. It's a disappointment that TE Hunter Goodwin
promptly retired after signing as a free agent in the off-season to be a
glorified 3rd tackle. His blocking could have really fueled a rebirth to
their ground game. Bob Whitfield is the veteran backup at LT and the depth
is above average overall.
Table Scraps: Where's the Beef?
Injuries plagued the Steelers line in '03. They were counting on Marvel
Smith and Kendall Simmons to rebound, but Simmons is now possibly out for
the year. Center Jeff Hartings has chronically bad knees but is being
counted on to start. The depth is improved with rookie Max Starks at RT. The
Steelers should be solid, if not average at least providing they gel and
finally remain a bit healthier. Losing Simmons in the pre-season will test
their depth. The offensive line is the biggest reason the Steelers offense
slipped in 2003, for them to improve as a team they need to do it beginning
right here. Alan Faneca is a rock at LG.
Larry Allen appeared to be clearly declining and an infusion of youth and
talent has been long overd. Yet there are promising signs coming from Allen
and the line overall in training camp that Parcells may be able to coax
more out of this group than originally anticipated. They better improve
because the front office did nothing to address their needs in the
off-season. Flozell Adams returns at LT, Larry Allen at LG and Al Johnson
at center. Andre Gurode and Torrin Tucker will lay the ground work on the
LT Ross Verba is a decent player, but he's out of position. Center Jeff
Faine and RT Ryan Tucker are average, but not exactly Pro Bowlers either.
The entire line is fairly unproven but they do have plenty of youth and
possibly from their depth a few key players might emerge. Free agent Kelvin
Garmon is an improvement at right guard, but left guard is a question mark
with Enoch DeMar and Paul Zukauskas heading up the depth chart. Overall,
this group lacks the punch needed to generate a power running attack and the
Browns front office failed to make significant improvements in this area
during the off-season. Be happy, Browns fans, you got the freakin' soldier!
Chris Bober and Jeff Hatch are gone. Who? Exactly. The only thing worse than
losing two of their starters is replacing them with former Browns starters.
Seriously. When have the Browns ever had a good offensive line since their
return to the NFL? Adding RG Chris Snee in the 2nd round helps, but with a
lot of turnover and no major additions to last year's lackluster group that
allowed 44 sacks (3rd most in the NFL), the outlook is a bit grim. Welcome
aboard Kurt and Eli! No wonder new coach Tom Coughlin is keen on the rebirth
of Ron Dayne to help provide these quarterbacks with a strong running attack
and less pressure. The line could pan out to be decent, but it's not very
pretty on paper and it may take a while for this entire offense to start
clicking with so many new pieces to the puzzle.
According to Dan Pompei, General manager Rick Spielman insists this year's
offensive line is much better than their line a year ago at this time. I'll
believe it when I see it even though Spielman is a good personnel guy. John
St. Clair is shaky at left tackle, Vernon Carey will be counted on heavily
to provide some relief soon, regardless of what position he ends up at.
Free agent guard Jeno James definitely helps at right guard. Center Seth
McKinney and left tackle Wade Smith are key players but right guard looks
questionable. They allowed 31 sacks last year and there's a decent amoung of
turnover here. Throw in the loss of Ricky Williams and David Boston, and
all of a sudden this line looks kinda shakey, so expect some growing pains
and another frustrating season for the Miami offense overall.
San Diego Chargers
Veteran Roman Oben takes over at left tacke after coming over from Tampa
Bay. He's easily the most experienced member of this unit. The jury is
still out on last year's 2nd rounder right guard Toniu Fonoti and the line
has a lot of turnover without any definite upgrade in talent outside of
Oben. If it weren't for Oben, the chargers off-season would be considered a
disaster for the line. Regardless, the run blocking could be acceptable.
But now you know why Eli Manning didn't want anything to do with MartyBall
or the Chargers mess of an offensive line.