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Titans O-line keying early success

Discussion in 'Tennessee Titans and NFL Talk' started by NewsGrabber, Sep 25, 2008.

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    Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Today at around 3:15 in Music City, Titans running backs and tight ends will gather with offensive linemen in a meeting room at team headquarters. Position coaches such as Earnest Byner, John Zernhelt and Mike Munchak won't be with them.
    The players will look at film for about 30 minutes and talk about how they anticipate handling certain situations. Sunday against Minnesota, some of that discussion will spill into what unfolds in the run game at LP Field.
    The meeting is a tradition started a few years ago by Travis Henry, and it's part of why the Titans' offensive line is keying the team's early success by carving space for LenDale White and Chris Johnson and offering Kerry Collins the sort of security that allows him to scan the field without worrying about getting drilled.
    That's even more significant in the context of the AFC South, where the Texans have allowed four sacks a game and both Indianapolis and Jacksonville have been riddled with offensive line injuries that have dented their abilities to execute everything they'd like to.
    "A double move is hard enough, when you put a triple and quadruple move in to make people fit, then it's hard for everybody," Titans center Kevin Mawae said.
    "The key is staying healthy and we had five guys who were healthy through camp and now," said Munchak, the Titans' line coach and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "And a couple other teams in the division had injuries and I think you start realizing how important the o-line is when you start seeing how much that affects not only the offense, but the games in general."
    The Jaguars just got their first win by grinding out 236 rushing yards in Indianapolis. But that blueprint isÂ*very difficult to pull off on a weekly basis, and they are searching for big plays in the passing game. So far they've hit on nothing longer than a David Garrard-to-Matt Jones 33-yard pass.
    "The thing is, when you have new offensive linemen coming in, it makes it tough for coach to call plays that go deeper down the field because you have to sit back in the pocket a little bit longer," Garrard said. "...The more our offensive line plays together, they will be more comfortable to pick up all the right protections, all the right blitzes and give me more time to throw the ball down the field."
    Some teams change linemen regularly, but the Titans are big on continuity. With two new starting guards this year, there was potential that it could take a while for the group to jell.
    Eugene Amano had a lot of experience as a fill-in -- eight starts and 63 games -- and has seamlessly replaced Jacob Bell, who went to St. Louis as a free agent. Jake Scott, a free agent acquisition from Indianapolis, replaced the retired Benji Olson.
    In the middle, 15th-year center Mawae directs traffic while a pair of highly-regarded young tackles -- athletic Michael Roos on the left, mauler David Stewart on the right -- still have their best football ahead of them. The Titans got them both locked up with long-term contracts before they could get close to free agency in 2009.
    Mawae said "we're doing well with what we do," interesting wording just a few days after the struggling Colts talked repeatedly about how they have to "do what we do."
    Jeff Fisher singled out his line after the win over Houston, saying it sorted through all the games and stunts the Texans tried. Munchak said communication was the concern with two new starting guards but that it has been great, and he hopes it will continue to improve.
    "At least we're not doing anything that's hurting us at this point," he said, with the typical modesty that his group adopts from him.
    Minnesota will bring the best defensive line the Titans have seen yet with tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, along with end Jared Allen.
    In Tennessee, a defensive football team that relies on the run is getting 4.3 yards a carry and keeping its quarterbacks clean -- surrendering only two sacks.
    Meanwhile signal-callers such as Derek Anderson in Cleveland (eight sacks), Jon Kitna in Detroit (12) and Matt Cassel in New England (nine) may be on the verge of getting pulled as they've become skittish under fire. St. Louis has already decided to sit Marc Bulger, who my colleague Mike Sando saw playing scared when he reviewed the Rams' most recent game.
    http://myespn.go.com/blogs/nfcwest/0-3-262/Green-to-scratch-seven-year-Rams-itch.html
    In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is all banged up from absorbing 12 sacks, eight of them in the recent loss to Philadelphia, and a lot of additional hits.
    "I don't' care who you are, it affects you," Munchak said. "To some degree it affects every quarterback that gets hit. Some handle it better than others obviously. It's not the sacks, it's the hits. A lot of times the sacks aren't as violent as a free guy or the late hit or that kind of stuff. We know how that can affect the game, because now the quarterback is looking at the rush."
    The protection Collins has gotten so far affords him a luxury every quarterback craves, time.

    "You try to focus on what's going on down the field and it's obviously made easier when you've got good protection," Collins said. "My protection here has been outstanding"
    Quarterback confidence cannot be overrated, and while the Titans aren't asking Collins to do too much, talk to him in the locker room or watch how he carries himself on the field and it's clear he's got it right now.
    His line intends to keep it that way.


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