Hall of Fame offensive lineman Russ Grimm helped fix the 2015 Titans offensive line. Now retired, the offensive line will be led by Keith Carter. With big shoes to fill, how will Carter fare?
The legendary Russ Grimm helped accelerate the development of the 2015 Tennessee Titans offensive line. Grimm’s efforts transformed one of the league’s worst offensive line units into arguably the top unit of the 2016 NFL season.
Injuries and an archaic offense prevented the Titans’ offensive line from replicating the dominance it displayed in 2016.
The Titans cleaned house and filled coaching vacancies, including the hole left after Grimm’s decision to retire. Keith Carter, who spent a few seasons on the Atlanta Falcons’ payroll, assumes the role as the leader of the offensive line.
Who is Keith Carter?
Carter has been coaching in the NFL for about five years, but spent time coaching in the college ranks beforehand. Although his name may not be as universally recognized as Grimm’s, he is not green in terms of coaching and has some experience under his belt.
Carter was an assistant offensive line coach in Atlanta during his first two seasons with the team before taking over to coach the running backs in 2017.
During Matt Ryan’s 2016 NFL MVP season, Carter helped prepare and mentor the offensive line. Behind the Falcons’ 2016 offensive line, the duo of RB Devonta Freeman and RB Tevin Coleman piled on yards and had Atlanta ranked as the fifth-best rushing attack in the NFL.
The tandem averaged 120.5 yards on the ground per game.
2016 Falcons Offensive Line
As mentioned above, the numbers indicate the Falcons possessed a formidable offensive line group. Who was on the line?
Ryan had LT Jake Matthews, a first round pick selected sixth overall and LG Andy Levitre (who had a cup of coffee in Nashville once), a former second round pick selected 51st overall. Add in another first round pick in C Alex Mack, who was taken by Cleveland with the 21st overall selection.
The right side of the offensive line featured RG Brandon Fusco, a sixth round pick and an undrafted free agent in RT Ryan Schraeder.
Overall, it’s a fair assessment to state that Carter had some solid pieces to work with.
Titans Depth, Competition in the Trenches
Tennessee’s front office made some moves this offseason to inject competition into the offensive line. GM Jon Robinson signed G Xavier Su’a-Filo and G Kevin Pamphile. Both players are versatile and offer the team a chance to have options at various positions across the line.
Carter will take over a Titans offensive line that features two first round tackles in LT Taylor Lewan and RT Jack Conklin. Although Conklin’s torn ACL has his return date in question, the Titans will have options in place to hold down the fort in his absence.
C Ben Jones, who seemed to be playing with nagging injuries last season, will be the voice in the middle. Jones has to play better. With added competition on the interior of the offensive line, the hope is it will bring out the best Jones has to offer.
The Titans elected to keep RG Josh Kline by signing him to a deal and also chose to tender LG Quinton Spain. In doing so, the Titans are giving their previous guys the benefit of the doubt, but have the options of Su’a-Filo and Pamphile available if either struggle to be a fit in the new offensive scheme.
In terms of depth, the Titans have C/G Corey Levin and T Dennis Kelly joining Pamphile and Su’a Filo as available rotational guys. Outside of Levin, the others have quality NFL starter reps under their belt. C/G Brian Schwenke could be re-signed for additional depth, but it’s likely the team will move forward with Pamphile and Su’a-Filo.
Hulk and Hustle
Carter has to ensure he puts the best product on the field in 2018, even if it means making some depth chart adjustments.
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OC Matt LaFleur will aim to feature two running backs who possess a vast difference in size. On one hand, LaFleur has the “Hulk” in RB Derrick Henry, who provides an imposing size and physical domination once he has a head of steam. On the other hand, LaFleur has the “Hustle” in RB Dion Lewis, who plays outside of his physical size and can be a nightmare for defenses as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Both running backs, as well as QB Marcus Mariota, have to trust in the offensive line. If the offensive line struggles, the team will struggle. Each position across the board has to be filled with talent capable of enhancing the overall execution of the offense.
It will be interesting to see how good of a job Carter does in prioritizing the task of filling the positions with the best possible combinations on the line. Lewan is obviously cemented in his role, and Conklin will be if he assumes full health. Jones has the mental edge over his competition, but if he is visibly ailing, his job could be up for grabs–especially if the Titans take an interior offensive lineman in rounds two or three.
It’s safe to say the trenches will be one of the most intriguing position groups to watch during the offseason.