We continue our position by position analysis with a look at the centers. As I wrote in this article two months ago, I expect the line to be improved this year due to a case of addition by subtraction at the center position.
Eugene Amano is the man who upgrades the position, moving over from left guard, where he started for the past two seasons. A six-year veteran, Amano had four starts at center, four at right guard and one at left guard in spot starts during his first four seasons in the league before becoming the regular starter at LG two years ago.
Some things I like about Amano include his strength — he won’t be overpowered the way Kevin Mawae was last year — and his overall experience on the Titans line. Calling the blocking assignments on the line will be nothing new for him.
Frankly, my own preference was for Amano to remain at LG but o-line coach Mike Munchak reportedly asked Amano if he would prefer remaining there or switching to center. Apparently Munch had no problems with either alternative so I’m not disappointed, since the position would have been upgraded either way.
Leroy Harris, my preference to replace Mawae, was the other alternative to start at center and he’ll now move into Amano’s former LG spot. If anything were to happen to Amano, I believe the Titans’ best option will be to move Harris over to center and replace him with Ryan Durand, Mike Otto or Troy Kropog at LG.
Like Amano, Harris is much stronger than Mawae and would be an upgrade. I recall that in the presser after Harris was drafted, either Jeff Fisher or Floyd Reese, I don’t remember which, said Harris was the second-best center on their board that year. (Harris, a fourth-round pick, was the third center selected in the 2007 draft; Ryan Kalil and Samson Satele were selected in the second round.)
In his three previous seasons, the versatile Harris has filled in as a starter at three positions for the Titans — center, left guard and right tackle.
Fernando Velasco is listed as a C/G on the roster and as Amano’s backup on the Titans’ depth chart. I thought Velasco had a good training camp last summer, his second camp with the Titans, and was the team’s second-best reserve interior lineman, behind Harris. Credit Mawae for some of that — although he wasn’t able to practice at the time, he worked with Velasco on at least several occasions I observed after the end of practice.
I expect Velasco to seriously contend for a roster spot again. As a drafted player, Durand seems likely to be designated the #1 interior lineman among the reserves but going into camp Velasco is the favorite in my book to be the #2.
Note: Kropog, a fourth-round draft pick last year, is designated as a T/G and as a backup tackle, but will also have some influence on how the interior line shakes out.
Kevin Matthews is third on the depth chart and designated strictly as a center on the roster. According to his bio, he was a two-year starter as a center at Texas A&M but there’s no mention of him playing guard, something which makes it a little harder for him to compete with Velasco’s versatility as a C/G.
Even though he’s presumably very sound fundamentally, as you would expect from the son of Hall of Fame o-lineman Bruce Matthews, the chances of an UDFA o-lineman making the 53-man roster are slim to none. Still, I’ll pay more attention to him than I normally do to UDFAs in camp, which is very little.