With most of the preseason in the books and fantasy drauction day looming (if it hasn’t already occurred), it’s time for one more update on the big fellas who’ll spring, protect, and otherwise lay out the path for the “skill position” players whose names you’ll be calling out between sips of Fat Tire.
This is an update to the earlier preseason update, which was an update to the mammoth team-by-team offensive line analysis from earlier this summer. If you’re looking for the rankings or the teams not mentioned here (and for the most part, no news is good news), click on those links. Any more “Where are the Packers?” or “What about the Steelers?” in the comments section and Toniu Fonoti is coming over to your house to sit on you.
In a word: uh-oh. Center Jeff Saturday, the guy who makes that entire line tick, will miss at least six weeks with a torn MCL. Saturday is still deciding whether or not to have surgery; if he does go under the knife, he’ll miss more like 10 or 11 weeks, but all indications are he’ll be back by the end of the season. Complicating matters is that Saturday is in the final year of his contract. Saturday is to the Colts what Kate Jackson was to the original Charlie’s Angels; the rest of the group may be a whole lot prettier, but without the brains of the operation mysteries might go unsolved. Remember, it’s Saturday who makes the line calls that keep Peyton Manning’s jersey clean. Peyton is already gimpy, and now he’ll likely have rookie Steve Justice snapping him the ball. Hitting the panic button may be premature, but if you haven’t already tweaked your Colts down a notch or two (Manning behind Tony Romo and maybe even Drew Brees; Joe Addai behind Brian Westbrook and Steven Jackson, if he wasn’t there already; Reggie Wayne now in a battle with Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards, and Marcus Colston to hang on to his top-five spot amongst wideouts) it’s certainly something you have to consider.
San Diego Chargers
The Bolts will already be without center Nick Hardwick for the first month of the season, and now it appears that left tackle Marcus McNeill might not be ready for the opener either. If you’ve been a fan of L.J. Shelton and his earlier work with a variety of poor offensive lines around the league, there’s no need to worry about LaDainian Tomlinson or Philip Rivers—both of whom ended last year injured. The good news for those of you who don’t (or didn’t) have the first overall pick is that it’s very likely you’ll have an opportunity to trade for LT following what shapes up to be a slow start behind a patchwork offensive line.
New England Patriots
Maybe the Patriots aren’t immune to the curse of the Super Bowl losers. Right guard Steve Neal was placed on the PUP list and will miss at least the first six weeks of the season, while swing tackle Ryan O’Callaghan is on IR and done for the year. Both of Neal’s replacements are nicked up, sending the Patriots to the waiver wire where they found former Raven Mike Flynn. You might recall that the lineup New England fielded the last time it mattered didn’t fare particularly well, and losing key personnel brings it down another notch. Now you’ve got questions about how much time Tom Brady will have to throw, making him just as risky a first-round pick as all those backs you’ve been picking him over. I’m getting a headache worrying about this; maybe Nick Kaczur has some more of those painkillers.
The rumor keeps circulating that left tackle Bryant McKinnie is facing a four-game suspension for his off-the-field transgressions. I still think that’s aggressive; while McKinnie has piled up a quantity of missteps they don’t feel like four games worth. Two games wouldn’t surprise me, and for the first time this preseason the Vikings started acting like they’ll need a backup plan by working Artis Hicks in McKinnie’s spot. An extended vacation from McKinnie wouldn’t help the Vikings, but since arriving in the NFL having allegedly never allowed a sack… well, let’s just say there’s no question that McKinnie’s reputation has been blemished.
Center Al Johnson won’t be ready for the start of the season, so Lyle Sendlein will open as Arizona’s snapper. Who he’ll be snapping to remains to be seen.
Justin Hartwig has been named the starting center, which is no surprise considering he was competing with Sean Mahan. Meanwhile, the $6.895 million the Steelers invested to slap the transition tag on tackle Max Starks—roughly half a mil less than it would have cost to franchise Alan Faneca—is looking like the worst investment since the U.S. 4x100 meter team all bought matching outfits to wear to the medal ceremony. Starks can’t beat out Willie Colon on the right side, left tackle Marvel Smith says he’s not coming back when his contract expires after the season, and through it all the Steelers were averaging less than four yards per carry in the preseason. Oh, and Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 93 times the past two seasons. They’re making it extremely difficult to maintain my faith in Santonio Holmes joining the elite fantasy wideouts this season.
There is no end in sight to Jason Peters’ holdout, and the Bills received a huge scare when his replacement, Langston Walker, banged his forearm in the preseason game against Indy. What little tackle depth Buffalo’s line has could be further sapped if Matt Murphy opts not to play through a partially torn rotator cuff. It sounds as if Walker should be back by Week One, but I’m still worried we’ll see the 10.5 sack Walker from Oakland circa 2006. That, obviously, does not bode well for Trent Edwards’ health or Lee Evans’ fantasy value.
Now starting at the tackles for your Baltimore Ravens… Mike Kracalik and Chad Slaughter. Jonathan Ogden is rolling over on his couch right about now. Actually, Adam Terry is back at practice, but there’s still no way I’d expose Joe Flacco to playing behind this line—not if I didn’t want him to end up on a couch of his own in a Baltimore psychiatrist’s office mumbling about being sacked more than David Carr and Tim Couch combined. And the Ravens’ line, which at one point this offseason was shaping up to be a team strength, is yet another reason to be down on Willis McGahee.
Youth continues to be served on South Beach, as the ‘Phins kicked veteran guard Steve McKinney to the curb and will roll with a lineup that includes two rookies and sports a total of nine years of experience. Tony Sporano being a former line coach, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here. This line won’t be an impediment and long-term is on track towards being a real helper.
It looks as if both center Chris Spencer, who is already back at practice, and right tackle Sean Locklear will both return to the starting lineup for Week One. Considering that the fill-ins shared a combined 12 games of NFL experience (with zero pro starts to their credit), that has to be viewed as good news for an offense that’s already down two key receivers and looks to establish a running game on the backs of Julius Jones and Maurice Morris.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have already put two offensive linemen on injured reserve, but the good news is both Mark Setterstrom and Brandon Gorin were expected to be backups. Still, the way this line has been ravaged by injury the past couple seasons, they’re going to want all the depth they can afford; after all, Orlando Pace’s surgically repaired shoulder is already sore. The key to Al Saunders’ success in Kansas City wasn’t necessarily all Al Saunders; Hall of Fame linemen Willie Roaf and Will Shields played a big part as well. Keep than in mind when projecting Priest Holmes-like numbers for Steven Jackson.
First Fred Miller couldn’t find work; now he has the luxury of choosing between offers from the Bucs (looking to fill the gap left by Luke Petitgout) and the Bears. Oh, and Chris Williams’ back injury? Turns out it was the same one that scared off all the other teams on Draft Day. Take an aging offensive line, mix in the quarterback stylings of Kyle Orton, and you’ve got a bevy of nine-man fronts welcoming Matt Forte to the NFL. You can do better with your third fantasy back.
San Francisco 49ers
Hey, nice Baas! As in right guard David Baas, who is off the PUP list and is expected to be available Week 1. Unfortunately, his counterpart on the left side, Adam Snyder, probably won’t be due to a high ankle sprain. Paging Larry Allen… and I’m not joking. The return of Allen might slide Frank Gore back into my personal first round, but right now that seems more like Mike Nolan’s wish rather than anything approaching reality.
Atlanta’s coaching staff said they factored line play into the decision to start Matt Ryan, expressing confidence in what line coach Paul Bourdreau has cobbled together—both in their ability to pass protect and that their run-blocking acumen won’t make the team one-dimensional and force Ryan to play the role of sitting duck. Key in this decision-making process was the return of a healthy Todd Weiner to the lineup at right tackle in the Falcons’ last preseason game. Must… refrain… from… Weiner joke…
No updates for the following teams (remember, no news is generally good news… or at least nothing that will dramatically impact your fantasy draft board), but feel free to check out their original ranking and analysis here:
New York Giants
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New York Jets
Kansas City Chiefs