Next up on our trip around the Tennessee Titans position by position as we approach the 2013 regular season is a look at the offensive tackle.
As I noted in the offseason look, you can basically write tackle names in pen for another year. Barring injury, Michael Roos will be the starting left tackle for the eighth consecutive season. I named him the Titans' offensive MVP last season, admittedly a choice as much by default as anything else. He missed his first career game last year, though due to an appendectomy I think you can fairly state is extraordinarily unlikely to recur. His back flared up during OTAs, but he's back and fully participating in training camp, so I'm not worried. A smooth and generally efficient pass blocker who has never been and will never be a people-mover in the run game, he was among the league's better left tackles again in 2012, and while he probably won't ever rank in the top five again should be an extremely reliable presence once again.
At the other end of the line for the seventh consecutive season opener will be David Stewart. Coming off a broken leg suffered in Week 13 against Houston, I wondered about the pace of his recovery, but after missing OTAs like Roos he is fully participating in training camp with no major limitations or slowness that I've seen reported. As I have a tendency of repeating, he's a mauler, but that effect has rarely been visible in statistics showing how effective the Titans are running to the right side outside of 2009. He's also vulnerable to speed rushers; not so much so as someone like Phil Loadholt, but it's an issue. He also had a team-high (among O-linemen) 7 penalties last year, including a couple in the game in Houston where Brooks Reed seemed to get under his skin. He turns 31 later this month (Roos hits the same mark in early October) and it's worth monitoring how he fares going forward, but he should be at least an average starting right tackle this year.
Should Roos or Stewart falter, the primary backup will likely once again be Mike Otto. Otto filled in reasonably for Roos in the game he missed, but struggled more in a couple games worth of action at right tackle for Stewart. He's not really a starting-caliber tackle in the NFL, which is a big reason why he's not a starting tackle and not being paid by one either. Given the other options, he'll be back for another season of what he's done the past couple years, and hopefully the Titans will need him less than they did last year.
Byron Stingily's fate is less assured in my mind. He played the last two games, the one against Green Bay when Otto had knee problems and the finale against Jacksonville as part of a more extended tryout. I was not particularly impressed by his work in either game, though I freely confess my inadequacy as a rater and projector of offensive line talent. Further, he was not nearly as bad as Mitch Petrus. I'm pretty sure he's behind at least Mike Otto. I'm not sure if he's shown enough the Titans are interested in keeping him as the fourth tackle. Ideally, I think the Titans would like him to be the swing tackle in 2014, the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, after Otto's contract expires at the end of this year. If they don't think he will be that guy, then it wouldn't surprise me if they find their fourth tackle (and they will have a fourth tackle) somewhere else.
I wrote up my thoughts on Barry Richardson when the Titans signed him. Namely, he's roughly a replacement level right tackle, and they added him because they were one injury to Otto or Stewart away from having a completely inexperienced player practicing with the first-team OL in minicamp. If he ends up taking snaps in the regular season, go bet the Under on the season win total because the Titans need a strong offensive line to win barring unexpected things happening and won't have one.
Daniel Baldridge rounds out the tackle group. The Titans added him off the Jaguars practice squad late last season, and he was even active when Otto was out against Green Bay, though he did not see action on offense. The Jaguars voluntarily started Guy Whimper and Cameron Bradfield at right tackle while keeping Baldridge on the practice squad last season. His only shot is if the Titans like him and don't like Stingily for the 2014 swing tackle role. I'm having a hard time getting beyond the "behind Whimper and Bradfield" bit. Like Richardson, he's wearing a number that also belongs to a defensive player, generally a bad sign for a player's roster chances.
While this isn't strictly related to 2013, it's been out there for a while that both Roos and Stewart have voidable years in 2014, the final year of each man's deal. I asked Someone Who Would Know what the void conditions were, since there was no obvious reason for 2014 to be voidable (like a draft pick-style option bonus to prorate), and he informed me neither contract in fact had such a void condition. Both men are under contract for 2014, the same way e.g. Nate Washington is.
Another year of Roos and Stewart, hopefully another year of them taking every meaningful snap, and what should be another year of good or better offensive tackle play in a league where teams too often struggle with bad tackle play. The depth looks better in comparison to the rest of the league than it might in a vacuum, though of course that doesn't mean I want Roos or Stewart to not play basically every snap. A possibility of a bit of shuffling at the bottom of the roster makes things almost interesting, but I think I pretty much ran out of novel and interesting things to say about #71 and #76 a couple years ago. They won't be there forever, but forever shouldn't start until 2014 at the earliest.