Our final stop on the offense on our trip around the Tennessee Titans position by position as we head into the 2014 offseason, after previous looks at quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, and guard, is a look at the center position.
As I noted in the preseason positional analysis, the center of the future was acquired last offseason and might end up being the center of the present. If he was not the center of the immediate presence, then I expected there to be no change at center. As things worked out, I predicted poorly. The Titans opted for a change at center over the incumbent, then that didn't work so the center of the future became the center of the present, at least when he was healthy. Going into the offseason, that center of the future is clearly the center of the present, and needs to take advantage of his first offseason to get healthy and improve.
The center of the present/future is of course last year's fourth-round pick Brian Schwenke. A hamstring injury in training camp cost him a chance to win the starting center battle early in the year. He did take over the starting center job in Week 7 against the 49ers. I gave his play that game the UFR treatment and noted some encouraging things and some things he needed to work on. He played reasonably the next game, then suffered an ankle injury in the next game. He would miss the rest of that Week 10 game against the Jaguars and be inactive the next week against the Colts but returned, though the ankle injury seemed to hamper his play the rest of the year. He finished the season starting nine games and playing 566 snaps (53%).
That ankle injury he played through over the last six games (the majority of his time on the field) made it hard for me to judge his performance. How much of it was trying to compensate for the injury, and how much of his play was flaws in his game? I note this because I did not think he played particularly well. He's a big guy, and fairly strong, but his strength was not always evident. That's part of the expected work in progress, as it's much harder to get away with playing without proper leverage and technique in the NFL (see the X of Great Shame pic in the UFR). That will be new line coach Bob Bostad's challenge.
I rarely comment on this, because I'm not the best one to see it and it's harder to observe from afar, but I think Schwenke has some body work to do like Kendall Wright did last offseason. They listed him at 318, but talked about him being 325 or 330 early in the offseason (before training camp). Whatever he actually weighs, I'd like to see him if not drop weight then at least change what he looks like. They're offensive linemen, you expect them to look big. But to me he looked big the way Wright did as a rookie, not big in the same way the veteran offensive linemen look. We saw with Wright what kind of difference that can make in a player's game, and I think there's a chance it could have the same sort of effect on Schwenke's game.
Rob Turner started the first six games of the year at center before giving way to Schwenke. He played about how I thought he'd play. He's a battler and nasty, but not overwhelmingly physically talented. Good opposing defenses, like the Chiefs and Seahawks in his last two starts, were able to take advantage of that lack of physical talent, particularly his marginal strength (for an NFL center). I guess the Titans were less tired of that, since they hadn't had to deal with it, than they were of Fernando Velasco's lack of foot quickness. He was inactive for Week 7, then went on injured reserve with a back injury, so those 394 snaps (37%) were all he played. He's not a right guard, so I really doubt the Titans bring him back.
Kevin Matthews was the center-only backup, signed after Turner went on injured reserve. He was only active for the first Colts game, when Schwenke was active, and did not play on offense that game. He was on the street at mid-season for a reason, and will almost certainly be on the street at mid-season again this year.
After Schwenke and Turner, the other player to take snaps at center for the Titans was Chris Spencer, whom I covered in the guards analysis.
Tyler Horn is the other center on the roster. He was signed to the practice squad in November and then a futures contract when the season ended. He previously spent the second half of 2012 on the practice squad as well. The Texans listed him at 6'4, 305 pounds, more or less the right size for a center. I'm sure I watched University of Miami games when he played there, but not closely enough to have a specific opinion of him. Consider him in the mix for the backup center job and ninth offensive line spot, though probably not the primary interior backup spot.
It's all about what Brian Schwenke can do in his second season. Oh, there's a backup job or two on the line, but really it's about Schwenke and how much he can fulfill some of the promise he showed as a rookie.