As we headed into the 2008 season, the two guard positions were ones of uncertainty. Benji Olson, a ten-year veteran and the nine-year starter at right guard, retired. The starter at left guard, Jacob Bell, left in free agency, which left the Titans with both guard spots to fill.
As it turned out, any doubts were removed by the play of free agent acquisition Jake Scott, who replaced Olson, and by Eugene Amano, who took over the left guard spot from Bell. They meshed with Kevin Mawae, Michael Roos and David Stewart to form one of the best o-lines, if not the best, in the league.
The Titans only allowed 12 sacks in 2008 to lead the league in that category. Give the guards some of the credit for that. Not all of those sacks were the fault of the o-line. A few of those sacks were due to missed blocks by tight ends and running backs. Also credit the guards for paving the way for Chris Johnson and LenDale White for the league’s seventh-best rushing attack in the league with 2,199 yards.
Here’s a look at what the Titans are looking at for the guard positions in the upcoming season.
Right guard: Jake Scott is firmly entrenched with three more years left on his contract. He’s above average as a run-blocker, as far as I’m concerned, and also very good in pass protection. He’s got good technique and is strong enough to hold his own against most of the defensive tackles in the league, even though most of them outweigh him.
Left guard: Eugene Amano is in the last year of his contract, so who knows what happens a year from now. Frankly, I believe that if there is a weak link in the line, Amano is it. A year ago, the Titans said there would be an open competition for the spot, but that turned out to be a sham. It looked like Amano was the frontrunner and designated pick from the start. I believe there may be some stronger competition for the job this year.
Leroy Harris: Although he’s obviously the designated successor to Kevin Mawae at the center position, he may strongly contend to take over the left guard position from Amano this year, as he awaits his turn to be the Titans’ center. Harris is a strong, physical and smart player, the type Mike Munchak loves. I know that Harris played both center and guard in college, which is one of the reasons the Titans liked him so much.
Daniel Loper: Not a true guard, he’s naturally a left tackle, and he’s the Titans’ backup tackle at both tackle positions. But he is a backup at both guard positions as well and has started at right guard before when Olson was injured. He played pretty well too, as a matter of fact. I don’t look for him to be a factor in the equation, however. Loper can become a free agent in March and I hope the Titans can give him a good deal to stay on. He’s a valuable and under-appreciated player. I don’t see a future for him as a guard, though. His best position is left tackle.
Outlook: I don’t believe the Titans go after anyone in free agency, but I hope they address this in the draft. Maybe a guy in the third or fourth round that Munch has identified as an upgrade a year from now to take over at left guard.