|The Titans hope Steve Hutchinson will improve their interior offensive line this year.|
We continue our position by position preseason analysis of the Titans with today’s focus on the guards. The Titans guards were disappointing in 2011 and as a result, there will be new starters at both guard positions in 2012.
As Tom wrote in his offseason review of the guards in February, RG Jake Scott was not expected to remain a Titan and with no apparent successor on the roster, his replacement would need to be found in free agency or the draft. That replacement turned out to be veteran LG Steve Hutchinson, who will continue to play the left side. Leroy Harris, who manned the LG position the previous two seasons, will shift to the right side to fill the vacancy left by Scott’s departure.
More on them, and the rest of the guards, after the jump.
Steve Hutchinson – He has Hall of Fame credentials (5 first-team All-Pro selections and 7 Pro Bowls) but his best days are behind him. Of course I hope he can be close to the player he was from 2003-2009 but I doubt if that will happen, even if he remains healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do recently. It’s been three years since Hutchinson played a full 16-game season, ending on Injured Reserve the last two years. He even considered retirement prior to signing a three-year contract with the Titans.
David DeCastro – OK, that was just thinking of what could have been. I’m still disappointed that DeCastro wasn’t selected when the Titans drafted at #20 in the first round but opted for Kendall Wright instead. If Wright turns out to be the superstar some are predicting, my disappointment will fade away, but if not I’ll be very upset with Ruston Webster.
Leroy Harris – I wrote in April that I was OK with Harris at RG for this year, but not beyond this year unless he performs unexpectedly well. I consider him to be a stopgap measure, someone who is a short-term solution at a position which has a long-term need. This is the final season on Harris’ contract and he’ll need to perform well if he wants to return. We should remember that when Harris’ first contract expired two years ago, the Titans were willing to let him explore the free agent market. He had no known offers from other teams and eventually returned to Tennessee on only a two-year deal.
Fernando Velasco – He would have been considered the best of the backup guards and the first to be called upon if needed but that changed when C Eugene Amano was lost for the season. Velasco should be considered the favorite to be the Titans’ starting center this year but if Kevin Matthews somehow wins the job, then Velasco should again become the primary backup at both guard and center.
Troy Kropog – Selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Kropog is designated as a T/G. He’s appeared in six NFL games and has been on both the active roster and practice squad in the last three years. Kropog is signed to a reserve/future contract.
Ryan Durand – Selected in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, Durand has also bounced back and forth between the practice squad and active roster and has appeared in one NFL game. Like Kropog, Durand is signed to a reserve/future contract.
Kyle DeVan – In three seasons with the Colts and Eagles, DeVan has appeared in 36 games with 25 starts. He does not have a reputation as a good pass-protector and was let go by the Colts at a time when they were desperate for help on their o-line. That says a lot about him.
Chris Morris – Signed as a street free agent following Amano’s injury, Morris has 11 starts in 51 games with the Raiders and Panthers. The Titans list Morris, who was out of the league last season, as a C/G.
George Blas – An undrafted free agent rookie from Steven F. Austin. Most UDFAs can look forward to, at best, being signed to the practice squad and eventually to the active roster as an injury replacement, which is the path followed by Velasco and Kevin Matthews, among others.
The Titans have been fortunate not to have injury problems on the o-line in recent years. Other than Zach Piller in 2004 and 2006, and Amano this year, their starters at the beginning of the season have been able to play all or nearly all the remainder of the season. Hutchinson’s recent history is a cause of concern, especially considering the depth behind him. As noted, Kropog and Durand have been fringe players. While DeVan and Morris are both experienced veterans, their performances with their previous clubs must not have been too positive or they’d still be with those teams.
Given Hutchinson’s decline over the last several years, plus his injuries, and given Harris’ uninspiring play, I’m not optimistic about the interior line improving. It looks like yet another year of substandard performance though I hope I’ll somehow be proven wrong about that.