The Tennessee Titans have a proud history of strong offensive lines, producing Hall of Famers Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews. The current group is starting to show similar promise.
Each starter is back after allowing only 29 sacks in 2006 while ranking fifth in the NFL in rushing. There's youth, with left tackle Michael Roos and right tackle David Stewart heading into their third seasons, and experience from center Kevin Mawae (13 years) and right guard Benji Olson (nine).
Coach Jeff Fisher said this group has the potential to be among the better offensive lines in team history and will be key in Vince Young's development.
"That's one of the things that obviously we have to build the offense around and time for the quarterback to throw the ball. We have been talking a lot about the improvement at the tackles, and that is showing. I think we probably have more depth right now than we have ever had,'' Fisher said.
Last season, the Titans rushed for an average 4.7 yards per carry - highest in franchise history. Tennessee averaged 156.3 yards in its final 11 games, third in the NFL behind Jacksonville and Atlanta.
The 2,214 yards rushing was the team's best production since 1997 when the then-Tennessee Oilers had 2,414.
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said working against both Roos and Stewart has helped him improve his own techniques.
"Quietly, this was one of the best offensive lines in the league,'' Vanden Bosch said. "Not only a really good run blocking offensive line, but they did a good job of protecting Vince and staying on guys so Vince could scramble and make big plays downfield when he was running.''
With the line blocking for Young, the Titans wound up winning eight of their final 11 games in 2006. Young won offensive rookie honors, and he's enjoying working with the same group heading into his second season.
"You can just see the confidence level of all those guys working together, and you've got Kevin Mawae up there getting the guys straight. They're doing their jobs. They're opening holes up for the running backs and giving me time to throw the ball downfield,'' Young said.
"That's all you can ask for - and take the guys out to eat.''
The line came together early in 2006 after veteran left guard Zach Piller suffered a season-ending ankle injury. That forced Jacob Bell into his spot with Stewart taking over at right tackle, and each stayed in those jobs for the rest of 2006.
Of the younger players, Stewart is the least experienced. A fourth-round draft pick in 2005 out of Mississippi State, the 6-foot-7, 318-pound lineman nicknamed "Big Country'' who hadn't played a single snap as a rookie claimed the right tackle job.
Not a big talker, Stewart said working with Olson helped.
"I'm a little more settled than I was last year. Getting thrown into it last year was kind of nerve-racking, but there's still a little nervousness. I guess it'll always be there,'' Stewart said.
Roos is a good bookend, standing 6-7 himself and 315 pounds. A second-round draft pick in 2005, he quietly has started all 32 games, flipping over last year from right tackle to left to replace Brad Hopkins following his retirement.
"It's a little strange because I feel like I just got here,'' Roos said.
Depth shouldn't be a problem either. Daniel Loper, Seth Wand, Justin Geisinger and Eugene Amano all played some last year, and Marques Ogden, younger brother of Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden, is among the younger players trying to make an impression.
But the starters hope to pick up offensively where they left off in 2006 with Travis Henry now running in Denver and Chris Brown and LenDale White fighting to replace him as the starter. Protecting Young also remains the top priority.
"As long as we can stay healthy, we'll work together and accomplish the goals we want to achieve together,'' Mawae said.
Story: The Tennessee Titans & AP Wire Reports
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