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Titans Camp Battles: Starting Left Guard

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Can Quinton Spain hold off the competition to earn a starting role for the 3rd straight year?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans offense is largely set as the team gets ready to head in to training camp later this month. The one significant role that could be an exception is left guard.

Quinton Spain has been the starter there for the last two seasons and has largely been very good in that role. His PFF grades of 82.3 and 73.6 have landed among the top half of starting guards in the league. However, the Titans decision to only give Spain the right of first refusal level RFA tender — the lowest tender option available to them — seemed to signal that perhaps his spot wasn’t quite as secure as most had thought.

Adding to the mystery over the direction of the left guard spot was the Titans signing two additional players who have extensive starting experience at that exact position in Kevin Pamphile and Xavier Su’a-Filo. Pamphile also has a contract that pays up to $2.25M for this season with $850K of that being incentives. If he reaches the max of that deal, it would pay him more than the 1-year tender that Spain is currently playing on. While the terms of those incentives have not been reported, one could assume that number of starts might be a sensible basis for triggering some of that money.

A 4th guard with NFL experience could also find himself in the mix as well. Cody Wichmann was a 2015 6th round pick of the Rams and earned 18 starts over 2 seasons there. He was in Rams camp in 2017 under offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, but ended up falling short of the 53-man roster. He caught on shortly thereafter with the Titans practice squad and spent the year there. He showed enough to be brought back on a futures contract at the end of last season. Spending camp under LaFleur just a year ago should give Wichmann a head start on understanding the offensive playbook and what his coaches will be looking for on each play.

Rounding out the competition is 2017 6th round pick Corey Levin and 2017 UDFA Tyler Marz. Levin has no NFL experience, but he does have a skill set that seems to fit very well in the zone blocking scheme the Titans are expected to employ under LaFleur. Levin was used primarily at center during camp last year so he could end up getting some work there again this year. Marz (pronounced MARE-its) is technically listed on the Titans roster as a tackle, but he got some reps with the first team offense at guard in the preseason last year. His brief audition didn’t get him a spot on the 53-man roster, but he’s back for another camp this year and it’s possible that we see him get in the mix at guard.

Below are some of the key metrics for each player.

Left Guard Competition

Player Spain Pamphile Su'a-Filo Wichmann Levin Marz
Player Spain Pamphile Su'a-Filo Wichmann Levin Marz
Age (at start of season) 27 27 27 26 24 26
Height 6'-4" 6'-5" 6'-4" 6'-5" 6'-4" 6'-7"
Weight 330 lbs 310 lbs 307 lbs 319 lbs 307 lbs 316 lbs
Arm Length -- 34 1/4" 33 3/8" -- 33 1/2" 33 1/2"
40-Yard Dash 5.08s 4.94s 5.04s 4.98s 5.16s 5.54s
Vertical Jump 29" 32" 25" 27" 26 1/2" 27 1/2"
Broad Jump 103" 108" 102" 106" 106" 99"
Bench Press Reps 28 reps 25 reps 25 reps 20 reps 26 reps 19 reps
20-Yard Shuttle 4.75s 4.81s 4.44s 4.75s 4.73s 4.97s
3-Cone Drill 7.88s 7.61s 7.60s 7.41s 7.55s 8.38s
Draft Position (Year) Undrafted (2015) 149th (2014) 33rd (2014) 215th (2015) 217th (2017) Undrafted (2016)
Games Started 33 33 41 18 0 0
Average PFF Grade 68.0 49.5 41.7 60.2 -- --
Pressures Allowed Per Pass Snap 0.057 0.058 0.073 0.055 -- --

With the transition to a zone blocking scheme, the movement skills of offensive linemen become more critical. As a group, these guys all qualify as what I would consider above average athletes for the position with the exception of Marz. The 40-yard dash is generally over-used, but nowhere is that more true than at an interior offensive line position. However, the 20-yard shuttle and the 3-cone drill are generally good for measuring a lineman’s quickness in small spaces. According to mockdraftable.com, the average times for interior linemen in those drills are 4.74s and 7.81s, respectively. Su’a-Filo blew away the 20-yard shuttle, but the others were all right about average. Every player in the group besides Spain and Marz were well above average when it comes to the 3-cone drill. It should also be noted that all of these measurements were taken quite some time ago (especially for the 26 and 27-year olds) so these guys may have improved their athleticism since entering the NFL and getting to focus on training year-round.

Spain is pretty clearly the most accomplished of the group based on his very good work as a full-time starter over the past two seasons and I would consider him the clear favorite until proven otherwise, but his competition has some advantages. Both Pamphile and Su’a-Filo come from teams who use a lot of zone runs and Wichmann has at least an offseason and a half worth of time working in a Matt LaFleur-led offense. Spain has played in what was primarily a power/gap style running game. While I believe he is athletic enough to successfully transition to a primarily outside zone scheme, he has yet to have the opportunity to prove it.

I’m sure the team would love for Levin to make a push, considering he is the youngest of the group and under contract through the 2020 season on a cheap rookie contract. Wichmann and Marz are both on cheap deals through 2019, but Spain, Pamphile, and Su’a-Filo are all on the final year of their current deals. Given the Titans upcoming cap situation, getting a guy like Levin to become a key contributor — particularly for the 2019 and 2020 seasons — would really help free up some cap space for other high dollar extensions for guys like Marcus Mariota, Kevin Byard, and Taylor Lewan.

Once camp opens we will quickly get a feel for exactly how “open” this competition really is. Will Spain be getting all of the reps with the 1’s or will they be mixing in some of these other guys with the first unit? Is Corey Levin working at center or guard? How much work does Pamphile get as a potential Conklin fill-in at right tackle as compared with left guard? The answers to those questions will give us little hints about where these guys stand in the competition for this position.

If I had to guess today, I would say that the starting line to start the season will be Lewan/Spain/Jones/Kline/Pamphile with Pamphile returning to the bench once Conklin returns from his injury, but we will know much more in the next few weeks. Who is your favorite to win this camp battle?