Ten-year veteran Benji Olson may possibly soon face a similar decision that his longtime running mate Zack Piller faced a year ago. Piller was given the option of remaining with the team as a backup (with a reduction in pay) or being released to pursue opportunities to be a starter elsewhere. In Olson’s case, the decision will be whether he’ll retire or try to extend his career in a reserve role.
After Piller’s departure, Olson’s counterpart last year was Jacob Bell, who is also highly likely not to be a Titan this fall. Bell is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and will probably not be in Mike Reinfeldt’s price range.
My partner Drexel wrote about the Titans needing to find offseason help at guard in a recent article. I’m in agreement with that, although I’m not convinced the problem is quite as serious as he believes it to be, primarily because I have faith Olson and Bell can be replaced to some extent with guys already on board.
Here’s a look at the men who may be lining up at the guard positions for the Titans this season:
Benji Olson – I honestly don’t know if he’ll hang them up or if he’ll try to stay on, even as a reserve. I am also unsure if he’ll even be given that option. After missing one postseason and three regular season games last year, it does seem likely that his back may no longer permit him to play, let alone start for 16 games. As a ten-year veteran, he’ll be an expensive backup, and I’m guessing Benji will retire. Benji has given all ten years of his career in yeoman service to the franchise. He and Craig Hentrich are the only remaining members of the Tennessee Oilers.
Jacob Bell – After starting in place of an injured Piller for the bulk of two seasons, he took over at left guard full time last year and has now started 46 games in his first four years. Naturally, he’s drawn the attention of coaches and GMs around the league, who will be vying for him in free agency. I just don’t see him resigning with the Titans, mainly because of his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who undoubtedly places a higher value on him than Reinfeldt does.
Eugene Amano – He’s been a steady and valuable reserve for four years and was rewarded last fall with a two-year contract extension. Amano can play both guard and center and had three starts at each position last year, one in the postseason. He’s certainly ready to become a regular starter. Amano says his best position is right guard, so that’s probably where we can expect to see him this year. I like both his strength and his footwork, which is better than average for a guard.
Daniel Loper – As noted in the positional review of the tackles, Loper is listed on the Titans’ roster as a tackle but saw all of his non-special teams playing time last year at guard, including a start in Olson’s absence against the Chargers in the playoffs. Whether o-line coach Mike Munchak is ready to pull the trigger on moving him to guard this year remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a viable option. Loper has been working at both guard and tackle spots for three years and can play every position on the line except center. He’s a restricted free agent who will definitely be tendered.
Leroy Harris – Another multipurpose, multipositional player, he’s listed as a center but, like Amano, can also play guard. Center is his natural position though and is where he’ll eventually play after Kevin Mawae’s career is over. Munchak has been working him out at guard, however, and Harris played both right and left guard in college in addition to being the regular starting center. All of Harris’ playing time last year came on special teams.
Outlook: Amano will claim one guard spot and it seems that Loper and Harris will compete for the other one. While I’m not going to suggest that either an Amano/Loper or Amano/Harris combo would be entirely satisfactory, I don’t believe it would be that big a dropoff compared to the Bell/Olson or Bell/Amano sets last year.
There are quite a few good guards who will be on the free agent market this year, and although Alan Faneca will command top dollar, Reinfeldt may be able to get one of the other guys at a reasonable rate. A few guys who might fit the bill are the Ravens’ Jason Brown, Rams’ Milford Brown, Dolphins’ Rex Hadnot, Colts’ Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott, Lions’ Stephen Peterman and the 49ers’ Justin Smiley. Wouldn’t that be something to get Lilja or Scott away from the Colts? Jason Brown, Hangartner and Peterman are all RFAs, the rest are UFAs.
I also expect Reinfeldt to draft a guard this year, but whether it’s a first-day or second-day pick should depend on what happens in free agency.
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Next in the series: the centers.