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The 2007 Ultimate Extreme Offensive Line Preview Spectacular - NFC South
Michael Courter
July 30, 2007
AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West Summary

Be it on the gridiron or in the world of fantasy football, the offensive line remains, the facilitator, the enabler, the critical piece, that allows their respective teams’ skill position glory hounds the opportunity to thrill crowds, make game-breaking plays, and win championships, both real and fantasy.  The O-line is the is the collective keys to the end zone kingdom, without it’s engine running properly, an offensive unit cannot reach destination end zone on time, or at all, making the thankless five man unit, even in the points-driven world of fantasy football, arguably the most critical piece of the equation.

The 2007 Ultimate Extreme Offensive line Spectacular will provide a breakdown of each team’s offensive line and let you know who’s improved, stayed the same, or possibly gotten worse from last season, and the reasons why, so that you can be armed with this knowledge heading into your draft, and rate your QB, RB and WR positions accordingly.  A numerical grade provided at the end of each team analysis will rate each line on a scale of one to ten, with one being the lowest (Texans O-line in David Carr’s rookie year) and 10 the high mark (KC Chiefs during Priest Holmes’ prime).

Atlanta Falcons

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 50 28 2672 167 1 5.1 1
2005 39 18 2546 159.1 1 4.8 1
2006 47 26 2939 183.7 1 5.5 1

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 K.Shaffer M.Moore T.McClure K.Forney T.Weiner      
2005 K.Shaffer M.Lehr T.McClure K.Forney T.Weiner      
2006 W.Gandy M.Lehr T.McClure K.Forney T.Weiner      
2007 W. Gandy   J. Blalock T. McClure K.Forney T.Weiner      

Due to the arrival of a new coaching regime headed by former Louisville HC Bobby Petrino, there is a major offensive line scheme change underfoot in Atlanta, as new offensive line coach Mike Summers (Petrino’s OL lieutenant in Louisville) moves the Falcons away from the Alex Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme, imported from Denver several seasons ago, to a more traditional inline blocking approach that favors, larger and more physical linemen.  In the 2007 NFL Draft, Petrino quickly acquired the face of this new offensive line philosophy, drafting G/T Justin Blalock, a 6-3, 320 pound masher out of the University of Texas with the 39th overall pick, early in the second round.  Blalock, a powerful drive blocker who played right tackle for most of his Longhorns career before switching to right guard halfway through his senior year, set a school record by starting 51 consecutive games and also scored the highest Wonderlic mark (41) out of this year’s draft class.  The rookie from UT will serve as the face of the Falcons, new and more physical approach along the offensive front.  Atlanta bulked up in free agency as well, adding depth parts, OT Leander Jordan (6-4, 320) from San Diego and OG Toniu Fonoti (6-4, 350) from Miami. 

Despite leading the league in rushing with 183.7 yards per game, the zone-blocking scheme had clearly worn out its welcome, as many of the veteran starters complained of having to artificially keep their weight down under the watchful eye of then offensive line consultant Alex Gibbs, and as a result, would struggle in short yardage and in the red zone while also being overpowered by all-out blitzes in passing down situations.  The returning veteran core consisting of LT Wayne Gandy, C Todd McClure, RG Kynan Forney and RT Todd Weiner have reportedly shown up for mini camp sporting heavier, more rugged physiques in preparation for their new approach. And by virtue of returning to a more traditional, power blocking scheme, the learning curve is not expected to be steep, as most of the veterans played this style early in their careers and in their college playing days.

GRADE: 7.5 - It appears change is good in Atlanta.  The lineman are excited about Petrino’s spread offense which will allow them to wear down their opponent over four quarters, and the fact that they no longer need to show restraint at the team dining hall, which should create a formula that yields higher production in the red-zone, and more W’s in the standings.

Carolina Panthers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 33 11 1582 98.9 28 3.7 29
2005 28 9 1679 104.9 19 3.4 29
2006 32 14 1659 103.7 24 3.9 21

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 J.Gross D.Brzezinski J.Mitchell R.Tylski M.Willig      
2005 T.Wharton M.Wahle J.Mitchell T.Reyes J.Gross M. Wahle    
2006 T.Wharton M.Wahle J.Hartwig E.Mathis J.Gross      
2007 T.Wharton  M.Wahle J. Hartwig E. Mathis J. Gross      

The Panthers offensive line was decimated with injuries in 2006, resulting in an offense ranked 24th in rushing, totaling only 103.7 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry, and producing the 27th lowest scoring offense, averaging 16.9 points per game.  Carolina, expecting three fifths of their OL starters to return in full health by training camp, made their only meaningful move regarding the offensive line this past off season when they drafted of University of Southern California center Ryan Kalil with the 59th overall pick in the second round of the 2007 Draft.  Kalil will battle with three year veteran Geoff Hangartner for the backup spot behind incumbent Justin Hartwig, who ended last season on Injured Reserve after suffering a groin ailment in late November.  Left tackle Travelle Wharton and former Pro Bowl LG Mike Wahle, both IR inhabitants at the end of 2006, are both expected to resume their respective starting roles in 2007.  Emerging third year RG Evan Mathis started 15 games last season and the Panthers see him next to RT Jordan Gross for quite some time.

GRADE: 6.0 - Good starting five across the board, but paper tiger depth could mean trouble. With the exception of Kalil, not much more has been done to improve the depth on this offensive line, putting the Panthers offense on shaky footing once again, should they experience a bad run of injury luck similar to 2006.

New Orleans Saints

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 41 21 1606 100.4 27 4 20
2005 41 19 1688 105.5 18 4 14
2006 23 4 1761 110.1 19 3.7 25

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 W.Gandy K.Jacox L.Bentley M.Holland V.Riley      
2005 W.Gandy K.Jacox L.Bentley J.Mayberry J.Brown L. Bentley    
2006 J.Brown J.Nesbit J.Faine J.Evans J.Stinchcomb J. Brown    
2007  J.Brown J.Nesbit J.Faine J.Evans J.Stinchcomb      

The offensive line for the NFL’s top rated offense from 2006, no. 1 overall, and in passing, had everything go right for it last season.  Left tackle Jamaal Brown emerged as one of the best tackles in the league in 2006 and appears to be a perennial Pro Bowler in the making.  Center Jeff Faine and RT Jon Stinchcomb, both plagued throughout their respective careers by numerous injuries, managed to stay healthy from start to finish and 2006 fourth round pick Jahri Evans, a 6-4, 318 pound guard from Division II Bloomsburg stepped into the starting right guard assignment and played like an eight-year pro, earning All-Rookie team honors in 2006.

To ensure the Saints offense keeps marching in, New Orleans used the 2007 Draft to strengthen their offensive line depth, selecting OG Andy Alleman from Akron with the 88th overall pick in the third round and LT Jermon Bushrod from Towson in the fourth round (125th overall).  The Saints are hedging their bet against a second consecutive healthy campaign from injury list regulars, Faine and Stinchcomb, and feel confident in the new rookie pieces they’ve acquired.

GRADE: 7.5 - This group should continue to rise in prominence entering year two together, as the line chemistry becomes stronger and the Sean Payton-designed offense will be that much easier for the skill positions to execute as well.  Despite the addition of the two rookies in the 2007 Draft, versatile Jamar Nesbit has played all five line positions and would be the first line of defense should Faine or Stinchcomb fall prey to the injury bug.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2004 44 24 1489 93.1 29 3.8 27
2005 41 20 1826 114.1 14 4 13
2006 33 15 1523 95.2 28 3.8 24

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2004 D.Deese M.Stinchcomb J.Wade C.Coleman T.Steussie      
2005 A.Davis D.Buenning J.Wade S.Mahan K.Walker      
2006 A.Davis S.Mahan J.Wade J.Terry K.Walker      
2007 L.Petitgout  A.Davis J.Wade   D.Joseph J.Trueblood      

Only one remaining starter from the 2006 line returns (center John Wade) as the Buccaneers begin a much needed overhaul of this unit after last year’s disasterous 4-12 finish.  Former left tackle Anthony Davis struggled in pass protection, prompting Bucs brass to sign former Giants LT Luke Petitgout (3 years, $15 million), an immediate upgrade to the position, despite Petitgout’s worrisome history of back and knee issues.  Davis (6-4, 322) is much better suited for inside line play and he will have a chance to start at left guard this season, should he be able to fend off an expected challenge from 2007 second round pick (#35 overall) Arron Sears (6-4, 328) out of the University of Tennessee.  Tampa Bay is starting to see the fruit of their 2006 Draft labor, as talented second-year players, OG Davin Joseph and OT Jeremy Trueblood (6-8, 320), continue to improve and paint a promising future for the right side of the line.  Former starting guard Dan Buenning (6-4, 320) will provide reliable depth at center behind John Wade.

GRADE: 6.0 - This grade would have been a 4.5 had the Buccaneers not acquired a functional stopgap at left tackle in Luke Petitgout and then added talented Arron Sears through the Draft to increase the quality of their interior line spots.  Young bucks Joseph and Trueblood provide hope for the future as Tampa Bay continues its restoration project along its front five.

AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West Summary

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