This year, I'm really going to be critical of the offensive line. In past years, I've been critical, but probably not as much so as others. But it's really getting tired for seemingly forever we've had an offensive line that could not pass block.
I realize that alot of our troubles have stemmed from the QB. We give up more sacks because since 1997, we've had QBs under center that tend to hold on to the ball longer than most other passers in the league. The team tried to correct this early on last year by instilling a lot of short, timing-based routes with Vick. But of course, he did not take (and probably never will).
But it's time this unit start blocking better, particularly in the passing game. We've had lines that have had great success run blocking, particularly this past year and in 1998, in which our units were among the league's best in terms of run blocking (although I would argue Vick's running ability skewers just how good our unit truly was last season). BUt it's time for these guys to step up.
I'm not super keen on Matt Lehr, but I think he should be an improvement over any of the 3 guys we had last year. I was always a fan of Roberto Garza, but never thought he was a guard, just a center playing out of position. Similar things have been said about Lehr, but I'm hoping with his better intelligence and field awareness (he lacks Garza's strength), he should be an improvement. But we all know his long-term position is probably at cetner if anywhere. He's just a stopgap at LG.
As for SHaffer, who most contend was the weakest link of last year's unit, I think he will improve since he is getting a smarter player beside him, and that should help him. He also will have a year under his belt and should be better adjusted to the NFL level of DEs. He had a solid 2nd half in '03, but dropped the ball last year. That was partially expected by me. Unfortunately, comp for his starting job is minimal. I doubt Omiyale or Stokes make a significant push for his job.
The right side, I'm content with. Forney had his best year as a pro, and was clearly our best OL last year. Weiner I suspect will bounce back. He's starting to look bad by contrast because Forney is finally starting to look good. He's a capable starter. He still struggles mightily against speed rushers and guys like Peppers, but he can get the job done.
McClure should be better, and it's going to be a big key to success this year how well he rebounds off a year that was probably his worst since the first time he started (way back in 2000).
I don't think the line has been absolutely terrible. If we had one of the top passers in the league, they would look much better. Guys like Manning, Brady, among others make their rather mundane units look much better because they know how to manage the pocket. Vick does not, and until he does, our line is going to continue to look flawed, no matter how much talent we get. I liken it to Washington's OL, which is about as talented as anybody's in the league with 3 Pro Bowl caliber players. But what has held back that unit is lacking QBs behind them and their inability to gel completely as a unit.
So although I'm one that says we need to improve the talent upfront, that doesn't necessarily mean going out and paying $30 million to some top player is going to automitically mean success. Cohesion and the QB has a lot to do with the unit's blocking. Hopefully, with only 1 changed starter this year, we can get stronger cohesion. I'm a little disappointed GIbbs only stuck around for 1 full season. He had indicated when he was hired that he was ready to coach full-time for another 3 years, but he proved wrong. Gibbs is still going to have a lot of influence on the unit, but we will need strong leadership from Jagz in order to make this thing work.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.