|Fernando Velasco may be the Titans’ starting center in 2012.|
The Tennessee Titans have not had a decent center since Kevin Mawae’s 2008 season. Following offseason surgery, Mawae was terrible in 2009 (yes, he was selected for the Pro Bowl, which is further evidence that popularity and name recognition are more important than performance) and the man who replaced him, Eugene Amano, wasn’t a lot better in either 2010 or 2011.
The Titans courted five free agent centers in the offseason, without signing any, and neglected to select one in the draft.
Now that Amano will miss the entire 2012 season with torn triceps, where do the Titans go from here? We’ll take a lot at some options, which are limited and not particularly attractive, after the break.
Fernando Velasco now has the inside track to be the starter this year. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, he was on the practice squad that year before finally being promoted to the 53-man active roster during the 2009 season, where he appeared in one game. Velasco appeared in all 16 games in both 2010 and 2011 with three starts in the 2010 season. He’s been used primarily as a blocker on kickoff returns.
This will be my fifth year watching Velasco in training camp and I’ve generally liked him in previous camps. He consistently demonstrated he was one of the better interior linemen in camp – not starter material, but better than the camp bodies. He was always in the conversation about who should make the final preseason cut, not one of those guys who had little to no chance.
However, there’s a reason he hasn’t been a starter, other than as an injury replacement – he simply hasn’t been as good as the guys ahead of him, no matter how poorly they may have played.
Kevin Matthews is the other primary contender to replace Amano. There will probably continue to be criticism that he only has a job due to nepotism, despite the fact that he was with the team for a year prior to the return of his father, who is now his position coach. If Matthews somehow manages to win the competition for the starting job, we’ll probably hear some raise the nepotism argument again.
Unlike Velasco, I haven’t been that impressed by Matthews in previous camps. Also an undrafted free agent, Matthews has appeared in three games, all in 2010, with one start.
Chris Morris is a newly signed center/guard. A seventh-round draft pick of the Raiders, Morris played with them from 2006-09, with 10 starts in 51 games, and was with the Panthers in 2010. He was not in the league in 2011. Morris’ history isn’t favorable – besides the gap in his work history, he was the backup to Samson Satele, who had a reputation as a player who struggled as a run blocker.
William Vlachos is yet another undrafted free agent who’s in the mix. As Tom noted, Vlachos is short and doesn’t have long arms, which makes the reach block difficult. Tom also noted the Titans haven’t had a starting center shorter than 6’3″ since Mark Stepnoski and he didn’t expect Vlachos to be an exception.
With Matthews temporarily sidelined with a concussion, Morris and Vlachos should get extra snaps, both in practice and in the first two preseason games. The centers will definitely be worth watching in these preseason games.
The best free agent centers have long been signed, so the remainder are guys who are older, struggled with injuries and/or have had difficulties performing in recent years. Former Buc Jeff Faine visited Tennessee in April but remains unsigned. Jamaal Jackson and Andre Gurode are the only other well known centers still available and neither of them seems like a solution to the Titans’ problems.
It looks like the Titans will have to depend on something which they’ve been unsuccessful at for a long time – to develop an offensive lineman – and hope that Velasco has developed into a starting-caliber NFL center.
Prediction: the Titans’ three-year streak of having subpar performance at center will continue for another season.