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Lining Up

Aug. 11, 2008
Aug. 11, 2008

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Aug. 11, 2008

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Lining Up

These offensive interiors are a reason to pick up—or pull away from—the players who operate behind them

SINCE 1995, whenMike Shanahan became Denver's coach, the Broncos have rushed for the most totalyards of any NFL team—and what's particularly impressive is that they've doneit with a revolving door in the backfield. During that span 12 backs have had atotal of 93 games with at least 100 yards on the ground. That record is atribute to the Broncos' offensive line, and it reinforces this fantasy truism:When in doubt, draft a Denver running back.

This is an article from the Aug. 11, 2008 issue

Across the leaguethe fortunes of skill players rise and fall with their interior linemen. As the2008 season approaches, here are five more lines that get votes of confidence,and five that give fantasy players reason to worry.

COMING ONSTRONG

1. Houston
The most porous line in football not too long ago, the Texans have found a wayto stop the pass rush: Their 22 sacks allowed in 2007 were less than a third oftheir '05 tally (68). This year the run blocking will catch up, thanks to thehiring of zone-blocking guru Alex Gibbs, who worked with Texans coach GaryKubiak when they were both on Denver's staff. That's good news for runningbacks Ahman Green and Chris Brown.

2. New YorkJets
Five-time All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, formerly of the Steelers, and ex-Vikingsfullback Tony Richardson, virtually a lineman himself, will help Thomas Jonesrebound from his dismal '07 season.

3. Cleveland
Last year a thrown-together group that included new signee Eric Steinbach atleft guard and rookie Joe Thomas at left tackle helped resurrect the career ofJamal Lewis. Having been together a year, this line could become the league'sbest.

4. Green Bay
The running game will face more pressure if Aaron Rodgers is at the helm, butthe offensive line, which plowed its way to the league's third-most yards percarry during the second half of last season, is back in its entirety.

5.Philadelphia
The Eagles gave up 49 sacks last year, fifth worst in the league, but 12 ofthose sacks came in Week 4, when starting left tackle William Thomas was out.All five starters return (assuming Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews ends hisabsence from camp); look for a healthier Donovan McNabb to get off more ballsthan last year.

SHAKYSITUATIONS

1. Carolina
They've got Jordan Gross, who is shifting from right to left tackle, andTravelle Wharton, who moves from left tackle to guard, and the three otherstarters had just four NFL starts among them in '07. This is not good news foranyone on the Panthers' offense.

2. Kansas City
Two of the Chiefs' five projected regulars have never started an NFL game.That's another reason to let someone else draft the battered Larry Johnson.

3. Pittsburgh
Losing Faneca and replacing him with unproven 350-pounder Chris Kemoeatu won'thelp a line that allowed 47 sacks last year, seventh worst in the NFL.

4. Baltimore
Adam Terry, the replacement for retired left tackle Jonathan Ogden, is out withan ankle sprain, a blow to the Ravens' already suspect pass protection.

5. Minnesota
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie could face an in-season suspension stemming fromhis involvement in an off-season fight, an absence that could prove fatal tothe Vikings' struggling passing game.

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Three to Get Ready

These under-the-radar training camp battles bearwatching by fantasy players.

Lions RB
Either '07 disappointment Tatum Bell or rookie Kevin Smith (right) will benefitfrom Detroit's new dedication to the run.

49ers QB
If J.T. O'Sullivan gets the nod over Alex Smith or Shaun Hill, he could beworth a final-round flier, given offensive coordinator Mike Martz's trackrecord with other journeymen (Kurt Warner, Jon Kitna).

Broncos WR
Free-agent signees Darrell Jackson and Keary Colbert are vying to catch ballsfrom the breakout-ready Jay Cutler.

PHOTORAMS REYNA/US PRESSWIRE (PITTS)ZONE-STAR STATE Guru Gibbs will school Texans like guard Chester Pitts (69).PHOTOLEON HALIP/US PRESSWIRE (SMITH)