He's the man people love to hate. It is (nearly?) unanimous that Eugene Amano was bad last year. Some would argue bad is putting it lightly. Mike Munchak and company clearly weren't pleased with his performance, tipping their hand by bringing in several free agents. For a variety of reasons, the Titans couldn't agree on a deal with any of those centers, but that's not the subject of this post. Not only do I think Eugene Amano will be the starting center for the Titans in Week 1, but I think its in the best interest of the team for him to remain starting for at least the beginning of the season.I realize I'm facing an uphill battle here, but I'll attempt to support my statement with two main points.
1) There's a lack of legitimate competition. Along with Amano, the roster currently has Kevin Matthews, Fernando Velasco and William Vlachos as possible center options. All three were undrafted free agents. It is quite possible that Matthews and Velasco, the two centers that spent time with the team last year, have improved. Given the coaching pedigree of Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews, it's likely they both have. Velasco even got some playing time last year and looked decent. Have they improved enough though? The gap from UDFA center to starting center is large, and even with continual improvement both of those players have a lot of ground to make up. If either were better than Amano, wouldn't they have gotten a shot last year? Finally, we get to William Vlachos. A starter at Alabama, a foot injury hurt his draft stock. Still, there are concerns over his strength and athletic ability.
Is one of these three guys ready to step in immediately? I personally think Velasco would be the closest of the three, but I don't think he can beat out Amano just yet.
2) There are some positives to starting Eugene Amano. Depending on what statistical categories you look at, the Titans line is either absolutely putrid or very solid. The reality is they're somewhere in between that range. Let's pick out a few numbers from Football Outsiders' offensive line stats. The Titans ranked second in pass protection last year. (The disclaimer here and for all the numbers is that the offensive line is ranked as one unit, so the credit and blame has to be shared amongst all five members of the 2011 unit.) Would the Titans want to break up the second best protection unit in the NFL? I know I'd be hesitant. The flip side is that the Titans ranked dead last in run blocking, but I think most would agree that pass blocking is far more important than run blocking. Obviously we'd like to have both working well, but forced to choose between the two, I'd go with pass blocking. Consider as well that Steve Hutchinson should at least account for a bit of an upgrade in run blocking compared to Jake Scott. Hutch isn't as good as he used to be (be prepared to hear that expression a lot) but he should improve the overall play of the line.
I don't want to completely disregard the run game and run blocking. Being able to run the ball is crucial in certain situations. That leads us to my next point. You need to be able to run the ball when you desperately need a few yards. Fortunately, there's a stat for that:
Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.
In this category, the Titans line finished third, with a 72% success rate. The top unit had a 73% success rate.
Does this tell the whole story on Eugene Amano's play? Absolutely not, and there are a plethora of stats to back that up as well (most involve the run game). We should continue to groom/find a successor. However, given the lack of better options and the unit's success in key areas, I think Eugene Amano should be the starter Week 1.