Beyond the glitz and the glamour of the skill positions in the National Football League lies the true heart of any organization, its offensive line. While these 300 pound warriors receive little to no publicity for their actions, one missed blocked and they become tomorrow’s headline. One thing is for certain; a team can be bad with a good offensive line, but no team can be great with a poor offensive line. The 5 men up front open the holes up in the running game, keep the quarterback on his feet, and ultimately control the offensive scheme. The phrase, ‘battle in the trenches’ exists for a reason as generally the team with the stronger offensive and defensive lines will be able to control the pace of play.
Strong lines can make up for deficiencies in the skill positions more so than strong skill players can make up for poor lines. These rankings take into account mainly the starting 5 for each team, but also factors in the depth each team possesses, as injuries up front are almost a guarantee in this day and age.
New Head Coach Chip Kelly certainly picked the right year to join the Eagles, as the offensive line appears healthy and ready to rock for the first time in several years. Injuries up front over the past few years undoubtedly played a key role in the firing of long-time Head Coach Andy Reid. Perennial All-Pro LT Jason Peters is back at 100%, while starting C and RG Jason Kecle and Todd Herremans are back from injury as well. Bring in first-round RT pick Lane Johnson to protect Michael Vick’s blindside and you have the makings of a top-5 offensive line in the NFL. The biggest question mark for this group will be its depth and whether or not they will be able to keep up with Kelly’s fast-paced offense. Ed Wang, Danny Watkins, and Dallas Reynolds will be the main backups for the Eagles, which certainly can strike fear in fans if Peters, Kelce, or Johnson drops early in the season. All-in-all, this starting 5 is easily the best in the division, and barring 2012 injury replays, it could prove to be a vital piece to the Eagles quest for another division title.
The Washington Redskins line certainly does not blow you away with big names outside of All-Pro LT Trent Williams, however the group matches the skills required in Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme to a T. The biggest concerns last season were Lichtensteiger’s health and Tyler Polumbus, each of which have been subdued somewhat heading into training camp. Trent Williams finally came into his own and dominated defensive ends last season while fighting through injury. Montgomery and Chester provide consistency and health along the interior of the line, which is imperative these days in the NFL. The biggest question entering training camp for this group will revolve around whether back-ups Tom Compton and Josh LeRibeus can continue to improve and if new signees Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos can compete at the RT spot. The health of this line last year (started 15 of 16 games together) was remarkable and cannot be counted on to happen again this year. If the main core stays together, this group is perfect for what Head Coach Mike Shanahan wants to do with his offense, but the key now becomes when, not if people get hurt, can the back-ups come in and keep things going forward. Only time will tell.
The group up front for the Dallas Cowboys has been in-limbo in recent years, and while things are showing signs of settling down at LT, C, and RT, there is still plenty to be worried about in Dallas. Neither of the guard positions are set in stone yet as outside of Bernadeu and Leary, Head Coach Jason Garrett has Phil Costa and Nate Livings in the background waiting for someone to slip up. Tyron Smith is easily the best of the bunch and Doug Free brings reliability at the other tackle position, but his health is a question mark. Rookie center Travis Frederick was considered a reach in the draft for the Cowboys, but coming from Offensive Line University (Wisconsin) he will likely be a consistent and reliable starter for 10 years. The biggest issue besides the mixture of youth and injury-riddled age is the simple fact that every position besides LT is somewhat up in the air. Until training camp really gets under way, it will be impossible to predict this team’s starting 5, however these are my predictions. It will take some time for Frederick to learn how to run the group and cohesion will be a serious issue in the first half of the season.
For quite some time the Giants offensive line was one of the key unspoken heroes of the team’s 2 Super Bowl victories, but Father Time is quickly catching up with them. This line is in a serious state of fluctuation, as only Will Beatty is a 100% guarantee at his position after signing a 5 year contract in the offseason. Rookie first round pick Justin Pugh will push Diehl for the starting RT spot, but is likely to be slated as a back-up to begin the season. Both David Baas and Chris Snee are recovering from injuries and are question marks headed into the season, while Kevin Boothe appears to be the likely choice at LG. Regardless of who is where when the dust settles, the New York Giants cannot feel very comfortable headed into this season with the group they have up front. The combination of age and injury, mixed with inexperience makes it seem like the transitioning of the guard to a new group will not be the smoothest.