2015 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: C


SELF-PUBLICITY NOTE: Football Outsiders Almanac 2015, the annual tome previewing all 32 NFL teams, plus the college football season put out by Football Outsiders, is now available. I was a contributor for the sixth consecutive season, writing the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and, yes, once again, Tennessee Titans chapters. The PDF is currently available from the Football Outsiders website, while the dead tree version is now on Amazon. Buy it, buy it, buy it! /end plug  

After quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, and guard, the final stop on the offensive half of our trip around the Tennessee Titans position by position as we approach the start of the 2015 regular season is a look at center.

The Titans could be optimistic about what they’ll get from their center in 2015. After all, he is a young player who has showed some promise in the past and seems to be healthier than he’s been the past two offseasons. On the other hand, the Titans seem be pretty concerned about their young center, who didn’t play in 2014 at the level the Titans probably wanted and expected and was banged up for the second season in his two years in the NFL, and have a plethora of options available, at least as many as they did in 2013 when they’d just gone through a revolving door.

Brian Schwenke is that center, and, well, I’m not sure exactly what the Titans should or do think about him. They were high on him when the picked him in 2013, and I thought justifiably so. He’s flashed at times, particularly in the run game, but a hamstring injury meant he didn’t start until midseason as a rookie, an ankle injury hampered him most of the season and cost him a bunch of that offseason, and he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 12 last year. That said, he’s still listed as the first-string center on the unofficial depth chart and I haven’t heard any comments about his job being potentially at risk this season. The Titans seem to be counting on him to improve. Since he was finally healthy for OTAs, you could consider this his first real NFL offseason, vital for a young player at a technique-heavy position like offensive line who also probably would have benefited from an offseason spending time working out instead of in medically-mandated idleness. As with Taylor Lewan and Chance Warmack, the book on him is still very much subject to revision. Like last preseason, his precise level of performance qualifies for me as a third-level “X factor” for the Titans offense this year.

If Schwenke gets hurt again, his replacement might be sixth-round pick Andy Gallik, formerly of Boston College and Brother Rice, whom I saw lose in last year’s Illinois state football playoffs. My go-to on offensive line play is still Lance Zierlein, and his writeup of Gallik carries some of the same notes I saw from other people: strong, nasty, and a limited athlete who doesn’t do well in space. Yes, the Titans have a type, and no, they don’t care if you know it. The most praise I saw of Gallik came from Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan, who called him the best center in the draft and a first rounder. I didn’t see anybody else that high on him, with most seeing the athletic limitations and short arms likely limiting him to being just a center. In draft-time interviews, he indicated the Titans viewed him as just a center, though Paul Kuharsky mentioned in a Periscope chat on Tuesday night he’d been spending some time at guard lately. That’s important for his gameday prospects, as it’s tough to keep a pure center up given the limitations of the 46-man active roster.

As a draft pick, I assume Gallik has a great shot of making the team, though as a late sixth rounder he’s certainly no lock. The real concern about Schwenke makes me think he’s more likely to make the team than a garden-variety late sixth-round pick. The key for him may come down to how many offensive linemen the Titans keep. If they only keep 8, like they did last year, can they justify a pure developmental center? I had them with 9 OL in my initial roster prediction, and I still think that makes the most sense.

Though I’m listing him third here, Fernando Velasco might be the guy who steps in should Schwenke get hurt. I don’t put much stock into his current depth chart list as second behind Schwenke; he’s the only veteran of the group, and the Titans tend to hew heavily toward seniority in putting that together. I mentioned in the offseason positional analysis that given Schwenke’s youth, inexperience, and injury issues, I thought they needed a veteran and thought they’d have one by training camp. Bringing back Velasco certainly gives them that player. He was kind of my stylistic comparison for Gallik, a good enough player inside his phone booth, but just don’t ask him to play outside it. Still, he gives them a veteran option, and he has played guard before. I think that gives him a great shot to make the roster, but I could be dead wrong about that.

Gabe Ikard spent last year on injured reserve after tearing his ACL last training camp. That he’s currently listed ahead of Gallik on the unofficial depth chart is most likely a result of that aforementioned strong hew toward seniority. Given his limited playing time last preseason and the fact I haven’t seen him since, I don’t have anything to add to what I wrote in last year’s UDFAs post. The selection of Gallik probably pretty much eliminated whatever slim chance of making the team he might otherwise have had.

Conclusion-Type Things

How much will Brian Schwenke improve in his third season? Can he stay out there for all 16 games? I’ve tended to be pretty dismissive of the importance of center in the past, once you get past a baseline level of non-incompetence. I think the Titans really do want to run the ball and protect their young quarterback. A healthy and improved Schwenke would really help with that. But at least right now there are options available if Schwenke isn’t available to be that player, and they don’t seem that awful. Hey, when you’re coming off a 2-14 season, you’re a team with spots like that.

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