Next up on our trip around the Titans position by position after the 2010 season, we round out our look at the offensive line with a look at the guards.
Unlike center and tackle, the Titans spent 2010 breaking in a player who’d never started regularly before, and have a decision to make this offseason about whether to retain a potential free agent or let him go and find another solution. That player is actually the same in both cases: Leroy Harris.
Harris stepped into the vacated left guard spent occupied in 2008 and 2009 by Eugene Amano, who shifted over to center with Kevin Mawae’s retirement. I was cautiously optimistic in the preseason about Harris’s potential as a full-time guard, but the Titans once again struggled to run the ball up the middle.
Of course, Harris does not bear sole responsibility for the continued struggles to run up the middle. Eugene Amano bears some responsibility, as I wrote in the center analysis, as does right guard Jake Scott. I thought the former Indianapolis Colt really struggled in his third season with the Titans, and the Titans didn’t have nearly the success running right they did a year ago. Scott is under contract for 2011 at a base salary of $4.7 million. I don’t know that there’s a good replacement for him on the roster right now, but that’s a position the Titans need to look at.
Depending on how the current labor situation works out, Harris may or may not be a free agent. He has four years of service, which was enough for full free agency as of 2009 but would have made him a restricted free agent last offseason. Just in case, the Titans gave him a second-round tender (Harris was originally a fourth-round pick), so I’m guessing they want him back, though maybe only at a reasonable price.
As I mentioned in the center analysis, I’m very interested to see how Mike Munchak handles the interior of the offensive line. Media reports seem to indicate he’s happy with the personnel the Titans have, while I think most people (myself included) are a little skeptical of that idea. One possibility might be moving Harris to center and Amano back to left guard. I haven’t seen that officially reported, but it seems like a natural potential move.
If the Titans decide not to or are unable to retain Harris, Fernando Velasco may be one option. He was the only person other than Scott and Harris to get a start at guard last season, filling in for Leroy in the Cowboys game. He’s also the primary backup at center, and I think that’s probably his better position. if not Velasco, Ryan Durand may be another option. The former seventh-round pick started 2010 off on the roster, but was only active for that Cowboys game Harris missed and ended the year on the practice squad. The other guards currently on the roster are Jeff Hansen, who ended 2010 on the practice squad, and Troy Kropog, who’s primarily a tackle.
So, the Titans have some very interesting decisions to make this offseason with the guards. Do they retain Harris? If he’s an unrestricted free agent, will he be too expensive to retain? If he is too expensive, who steps into his shoes? Is Scott’s future, or even current, replacement on the roster, or do the Titans need to go out and acquire him? I don’t have a great deal of confidence in exactly how the Titans will answer these questions, but (a) it would surprise me to see the Titans make a big move in free agency, even if Harris departs, (b) I expect Jake Scott to be on the team and start in 2011 (if healthy, of course), and (c) it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Titans use a mid-round pick on a Right Guard of the Future.