To get a better idea of what the Titans are getting, I went back and watched a couple games of offensive lineman Rob Turner, formerly of the St. Louis Rams.
Turner played and started all 16 games for the Rams last year. He spent seven games at left guard and the other nine at center. The breakdown was simple: when Scott Wells was healthy, he played center and Turner played left guard. When Wells was out, Turner played center. I decided to watch one game Turner played at left guard and one game he played at center. Since offensive linemen aren’t subbed in and out over the course of a game the way defensive tackles like Sammie Lee Hill are, I chose games not by how much Turner played but rather by which games I felt like watching. I chose for his game at center the Rams’ 19-13 win over Seattle in Week 4 and for left guard the Rams’ 36-22 loss to Minnesota in Week 15.
As with the Sammie Lee Hill post, this is decidedly an amateur analysis. As I’ve written before, I’m not very good at analyzing things like hand use by linemen and the subtleties in a player’s stance. The finer points of line technique are lost on me, so I’m going to say very little or nothing about them. These are really important things, and the input of somebody who is good at evaluating those things could drastically change my opinion of Turner’s play. Further, two games is a small sample size. Were I to watch all 1042 snaps Turner played instead of just the roughly 120 I did (I bailed early on the Vikings game, which was in garbage time), my opinion of him could similarly drastically change. So, amateur analysis off a pretty modest sample size, accept the following with a huge grain of salt.
The Seahawks ended up being an interesting challenge for Turner at center. They play with a nose tackle-not a traditional 3-4 0-tech who lines up heads-up on the center, but a lot of the 1-tech with a slanted alignment. At least in Week 4, that player was primarily Brandon Mebane and, well, he had a better game than Turner did. He walked Turner back in pass rush situations. He was able to penetrate to the side and disrupt plays that way. On run plays, he spent more time controlling Turner than Turner did controlling him. I should emphasize this wasn’t every play, and it wasn’t a shellacking like the sort Mitch Petrus endured. Further, Turner did better–not great, but better–against Clinton McDonald, who’s closer to the caliber of nose tackle he’ll be facing in the AFC South. My overall impression, though, was Turner is not the best center on the Titans, and that’s without taking Brian Schwenke into account.
The game at left guard left me similarly nonplussed. He didn’t face the same sort of challenge he did at center from Mebane, but the few times he was matched up with Kevin Williams, he struggled. The other tackles, Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, and Christian Ballard, weren’t as good, but it was a more even battle with Turner winning sometimes and getting beat for pressures or disrupted run plays at other times. Ballard in particular beat him for what would have been a QB pressure if only Jared Allen hadn’t beaten Rodger Saffold even more cleanly. Once again, he wasn’t Mitch Petrus or even Deuce Lutui, but he looked like a Just A Guy at a relatively undemanding position.
I should emphasize one thing that stood out as a strength of Turner’s was his recognition on twists and stunts. There were a couple notable examples where he did a very good job. Two particular plays I noted were at 1:49 of the second quarter of the Minnesota game, where he passed on his man and then picked up Everson Griffen on a loop stunt, and a very impressive play at 11:55 of the third quarter of the Seattle game. He first got a hand on Chris Clemons, then helped pick up Jason Jones on a cross, and finally picked up linebacker K.J. Wright on a delayed A-gap blitz of the sort that normally serves as the piece de resistance of a pressure scheme. A really, really impressive job. The downside I noticed was a tendency to get grabby at times. He was flagged for holding twice (once declined) against the Seahawks, and there were a further four or five plays where I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a flag come out.
When I wrote up Turner’s signing, I noted his role seemed to be as the starting center or the swing interior line backup spot, while he’s played about as much right guard in the NFL as I have. The Titans have since added Brian Schwenke, who fills the same sort of role. At least tentatively, the unofficial depth chart in my head has Velasco and Schwenke ahead of Turner. Do they like him enough at right guard to keep him, or are they concerned enough about depth to keep two players who are probably primarily LG/C backups? Being better than Kevin Matthews would have been enough to guarantee Turner a roster spot in some past seasons, but right now I’m not sure he’s a lock.