NFL Training Camp Offensive Line Battles: Keep a Close Eye on These Big Men
- Will Ryan Jensen or Matt Skura replace the retired John Urschel in Baltimore? Will Ben Garland, Wes Schweitzer or Sean Harlow be protecting Matt Ryan in Atlanta?
How a franchise sorts out its quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends only matters so much if its offensive line is in shambles. Very few teams will head into the preseason with all five O-line positions 100% decided.
Of those with choices left to make, here are the most intriguing battles:
Atlanta: Ben Garland vs. Wes Schweitzer and Sean Harlow
Preseason depth charts are almost entirely meaningless, but chalk up the Falcons’ chart released this week as an exception to the rule. On it, Garland was listed as the first-team right guard, with Schweitzer as the second-teamer; Harlow is penciled in as Andy Levitre’s backup on the left side.
This would seem to signal that Garland, a converted D-lineman, has the early edge on Schweitzer in the race to replace Chris Chester. Garland has limited experience on offense, but the 29-year-old is by far the elder statesman of this year. The Falcons added Schweitzer in Round 6 of the 2016 draft, then selected Harlow in Round 4 this year. On top of being a rookie, Harlow is facing the added challenge of learning a new position—he played tackle at Oregon State.
Nothing has been decided yet, but Garland holds the lead position.
Baltimore: Ryan Jensen vs. Matt Skura
It’s been a rough training camp for the Ravens—they’ve been peppered with injuries, plus learned right at the outset of training camp that possible starting center John Urschel had decided to retire. Urschel’s unexpected decision thrust Jensen into the spotlight.
The Ravens also have an ongoing competition at right tackle, where they just added free agent Austin Howard to battle James Hurst. Jensen was in the mix there, too, as of May’s OTAs, but he’s needed inside now. A 2013 Baltimore draft pick, Jensen still has yet to make a regular-season start at any position. Skura could keep that dubious streak intact, if he shines in the preseason.
Buffalo: Jordan Mills vs. Dion Dawkins
The Bills did not spend a second-round pick on Dawkins because they felt great about their offensive-line situation. Still, the rookie has to unseat Mills, a 16-game starter a season ago. Another name to file away for later: Seantrel Henderson. He has five games remaining on a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
“We’ve got to see them play,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said, via the Bills’ website. “Practice is great competition, but obviously the game is a different deal. We have to go through the whole preseason and it won’t be done on one play and it won’t be done on one game. It’ll be done on the entire scope of all their work.”
Carolina: Daryl Williams vs. Taylor Moton
The Panthers turned over their left tackle spot this offseason, adding Matt Kalil to play on Cam Newton’s blindside. Williams held down the other OT job, part-time, last season—he made 10 starts and played in all 16 games. Can he retain that assignment or will the rookie Moton unseat him?
Moton came off the draft board on the final pick of Round 2, one spot after the Bills traded up for Dawkins.
Cleveland: Shon Coleman vs. Cam Erving
Coleman (a 2016 draft pick) and Ervin (a 2015 first-rounder) are fighting at right tackle. Both figure to see time on the opposite side of the line during preseason, though, as the Browns manage Joe Thomas’s workload. That’s an added wrinkle in the Coleman-Erving race, but it will provide extra snaps for the Browns to evaluate their two tackle options.
Dallas: Chaz Green vs. Jonathan Cooper
While the Cowboys’ offensive line is still an obvious strength, there are a couple more dents than a year ago. Right tackle Doug Free’s retirement pushed La’el Collins outside, which coupled with Ronald Leary’s departure via free agency to thin out the interior ranks.
The beneficiary will be either Green or Cooper, one of whom will start at left guard, between OT Tyron Smith and C Travis Frederick. Earlier in the summer, Greez was the odds-on favorite to win the gig. Since he’s now sidelined with a shoulder injury, Cooper may walk away with it.
Denver: Ty Sambrailo vs. Garett Bolles
Bolles will start at left tackle for the Broncos on Thursday night, in his NFL debut. If all goes well vs. Chicago and moving forward, Denver would love to leave him planted in that position for the foreseeable future.
Prior to Bolles’s arrival, Sambrailo and veteran Donald Stephenson were among the obvious—if underwhelming—options to claim the LT nod. Those are the two main competitors Bolles still has to fend off, but at this point it would be a minor upset if he failed to do so.
Detroit: Greg Robinson vs. Cyrus Kouandjio and Storm Norton
The Lions added Robinson (trade) and Kouandjio (free agency) almost simultaneously in mid-June, days after starting left tackle Taylor Decker underwent shoulder surgery. Nearly two months later, Detroit’s still figuring out who the best option is to hold down Decker’s spot until he can return.
Norton is a wild card—the undrafted free agent has picked up first-team reps here and there. He’ll have to be brilliant in August to overtake both Robinson and Kouandjio, if only because of that duo’s experience. But neither has separated himself from the field thus far.
L.A. Chargers: Dan Feeney vs. Kenny Wiggins
The Chargers’ effort to restock their O-line via the draft took a hit when second-rounder Forrest Lamp tore his ACL, an injury that will sideline him for the season. Feeney, a third-rounder, now finds himself carrying the torch for the team’s rookie linemen.
An obstacle between Feeney and a starting guard spot: The Chargers actually have to play him at guard. Jack Wang of The Orange County Register reports that L.A. has “used [Feeney] primarily as their backup center thus far,” with Max Tuerk at guard. Barring an adjustment, this may not turn out to be much of a battle.
Miami: Kraig Urbik vs. Isaac Asiata, Anthony Steen and anyone else Miami can find
Projected starting left guard Ted Larsen suffered a biceps injury last week, turning what had been a relatively solidified position into a horse race.
“It was disappointing because he was probably our most consistent guy day in and day out,” coach Adam Gase said of Larsen.
Urbik has 100 career games under his belt, and 63 starts (including six for Miami last year). However, he’s already filling in for Mike Pouncey at center, as Pouncey works back from a hip injury.
Minnesota: Nick Easton vs. Pat Elflein
Elflein ranked No. 40 on our list of 2017 draft prospects, so the Vikings did well to swipe in with a third-round pick. Sometime soon, he’ll be a starter. Will that happen before the regular season begins next month? It definitely could. He’ll have every opportunity to surpass Easton, a five-game starter for the Vikings last season.
New Orleans: Khalif Barnes vs. Ryan Ramczyk
With Terron Armstead on the PUP list after tearing his labrum, the Saints had little choice but to accelerate the timeline on Ramczyk, a 2017 first-rounder. Unfortunately for him, he’s missed multiple practices this week for “undisclosed reasons,” reports Herbie Teope of The Times-Picayune.
As such, the Saints’ starting left tackle could wind up Barnes, by default. The 35-year-old longtime NFL veteran should be a depth player at this point in his career, but the Saints are running out of options.
N.Y. Giants: D.J. Fluker vs. the right side of the line
Are the Giants satisfied with John Jerry at guard? How about Bobby Hart at tackle? If the answer is “no” either spot, the Giants likely would turn to Fluker, who signed a one-year deal this offseason after spending 2013–16 with the Chargers.
The other possibility at right tackle is rookie Adam Bisnowaty. It’s a steep climb, though, from a sixth-round selection to the starting lineup in just a few months.
N.Y. Jets: Brandon Shell vs. Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana
Kelvin Beachum should be the Jets’ starting left tackle, but the right side is far more up in the air. (Ijalana was listed as the starter there on the initial preseason depth chart, but coach Todd Bowles quickly confirmed said the depth chart was meaningless.)
Shell is arguably the most exciting of the RT options. He started three games a season ago, as a rookie. Qvale started five in ’16 and has two years in Bowles’s system; Ijalana, who’s been with the Jets since 2014, re-signed this offseason for two years and $11 million.
Seattle: Germain Ifedi vs. Ethan Pocic
Say this about Ifedi: He really cannot be any worse at right tackle than he was as a guard a year ago. OK, that’s not all that reassuring for the Seahawks, but the 2016 first-rounder should be in better shape playing on the outside. Nevertheless, Pocic can give him a run for his money—the competition ratcheted up in recent days, as Ifedi missed multiple practices following a fight with teammate Frank Clark.