The Titans are settled on their starters at nearly every position across all 22 offensive and defensive spots with the exception of right guard — despite what the national media might be saying about the quarterback situation. That makes one of football’s least “sexy” positions pretty interesting for Titans fans heading into 2019.
The team released Josh Kline after his worst season since becoming the full time starter at right guard in 2016. However, unlike left guard — where the Titans replaced Quinton Spain with a surefire starter in Rodger Saffold — the team failed to add a player that represents a clear upgrade on paper. That leaves right guard as the position that I’m most concerned with heading into the 2019 season.
With that in mind, I figured it would be a good idea to check in on the offensive line throughout the preseason and see how things are going. I believe there to be a clear top three right now among the challengers to start on the offensive line: Kevin Pamphile, Jamil Douglas, and Corey Levin. I believe Nate Davis would be a part of that group if he was healthy, but this missed time is really going to hurt his already slim odds of being a week one starter at right guard.
Pamphile was re-signed to a one year, $1.6M deal this spring after a season that saw him play in the Titans first three games — including two starts at different positions — before going down with a torn biceps against Jacksonville. Now healthy, he’s being given the opportunity to compete for the starting right guard spot.
His familiarity with the offense and ability to backup multiple positions — Pamphile’s 2018 starts came at left tackle and right tackle, but most of his career starts have come at left guard while he was in Tampa Bay — make him very likely to make the roster even if he doesn’t earn a starting gig. In fact, I’d consider him the team’s fourth best tackle behind Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, and Dennis Kelly.
Pamphile got the start at right guard and played 49% of the Titans offensive snaps against the Eagles, fifth most on the offense. Mike Vrabel and Keith Carter clearly wanted to get an extended look at the guy who seems most likely to win the only truly “available” starting job on the roster — besides maybe WR3 if your name is A.J. Brown, but that’s a story for another day.
I thought Pamphile was up and down — like every player in this competition — during his work against the Eagles front. He got good push in the running game early as this snap from the opening drive shows. It’s not flashy, but he’s able to combine with Ben Jones to move the nose tackle two yards off the line of scrimmage and then picks up the Mike linebacker as he loops into the hole.
However, there were also some not-so-good moments for Pamphile in the run game. Here, he gets blown several yards back by Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester which forces Jeremy McNichols to cut back into the teeth of the Philly defense for little to no gain on the play.
As a pass blocker Pamphile got off to a rough start, giving up an early pressure to Malik Jackson on the first third down of the game. Jackson remains one of the better interior pass rushers in the league so this isn’t the same as getting beat by a scrub, but obviously you’d love to see him minimize that as he continues to develop.
However, as I mentioned up top, he had some good moments as well. This was a particularly heads up play by him that helped facilitate the Titans first touchdown. Second team right tackle Austin Pasztor is getting beat by Eagles defensive end Daeshon Hall — as he was pretty much the entire night — but Pamphile senses it and slides off Hester to interrupt Hall before he can get to Ryan Tannehill for what likely would have been a strip sack. Great heads up play that was directly rewarded with points for the offense.
PFF graded Pamphile out as the worst Titans offensive lineman on the night, giving him a paltry 38.3 grade overall despite the fact that he wasn’t credited with any pressures, hits, or hurries in pass protection. Part of that low grade is a false start penalty he was whistled for during the game. Procedure penalties are a good way to find yourself in the doghouse quickly.
Douglas is a journeyman guard who has spent the last four seasons bouncing around NFL rosters after being a fourth round pick for the Dolphins back in 2015. The rap on him when he was coming out of Arizona State was that he was very athletic, but maybe a little too soft to play on the interior of an NFL offensive line.
He found his way to Nashville last October, getting added to the Titans practice squad after getting released by the Colts a month earlier. Douglas has obviously impressed the coaching staff with his work both last year and this year, as he has been afforded some pretty significant opportunities with the first team offense in camp.
That continued in preseason game number one as Douglas got the nod to start at left guard as Rodger Saffold was held out. He got off to a rough start on the first drive as this whiff on Eagles defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway led to Marcus Mariota being forced to flee the pocket early and eventually throwing the ball away out of bounds.
However, there were some sharp moments from Douglas as well. He executed an absolutely perfect cut block on the backside of the zone run that produced Jeremy McNichols’ big gain.
Also, this is pretty much perfect execution from several guys on the line. Center Corey Levin helps Douglas get the cut block set up and then climbs to the second level. Taylor Lewan shows off his supreme athleticism by getting up to the Will linebacker and cutting him to the ground as well. He then springs up and sprints down field with McNichols to find more work. This isn’t news, but Lewan is a total stud and the Titans are going to miss him dearly the first four weeks of the regular season.
Douglas moved to center later in the game. His versatility is something that should help his cause to make the roster even if he doesn’t get the starting job. Here, Douglas executes a perfect reach block on the Eagles nose tackle, getting to his outside shoulder and turning him back in to create a seam for Dalyn Dawkins. Douglas has good, quick feet that suit the Titans offense well.
PFF graded Douglas a bit higher than Pamphile at 55.7 — still a very poor grade overall though. He was tagged for two hurries on the night (one of them shown above), the most of any of the interior players vying for this job.
It’s hard for me to peg exactly where Levin fits into this competition, but I think he should be considered. The Titans seem to like him at center more than they like him at guard so the combination that gets him into the starting lineup is likely Levin at center and Jones bumping over to right guard, the position he started his career at with the Texans.
Levin is a guy who has frequently drawn praise from Mike Vrabel and I think you could certainly make the argument that he was the best out of the Pamphile-Douglas-Levin trio against the Eagles. He came in with the second team offensive line at center and then saw some time at left guard later in the game.
I thought he did a nice job in pass protection for the most part on the night. No real highlight plays, but he does a good job of helping his guards and picking up loopers coming in from the outside as shown here.
Where Levin really shined was in the run game though. He had a few really nice blocks on the night, including this one clearing the way for a nice Dalyn Dawkins run. Levin does a great job of getting off the ball quickly and cutting off the linebacker’s path. Once he’s latched on, he continues to drive him down field and shows great finish on this play.
Here is another rep I really liked from Levin. He does a great job of turning the nose tackle out to make room for McNichols to slither through for a nice pick up.
Levin’s PFF grade was a bit odd. They scored him incredibly low in pass blocking, despite not having him credited with allowing any hurries, hits, or sacks on the night. That caused his overall score to be just 55.3 despite his very strong run blocking score — 71.2 which is very good in limited action. I didn’t think he was a major liability in pass protection, though I didn’t feel like he stood out in any meaningful way in that capacity either.
Overall, I thought Levin looked the best of this group, followed by Pamphile and Douglas in that order. However, it’s not an extremely wide margin between any of them. Aaron Stinnie — probably the fourth or fifth guy in this competition — didn’t have a great night. He spent too much time off balance and also drew a flag. I did think Hroniss Grasu — Marcus Mariota’s former Oregon teammate — had a really nice game, though it should be noted that he was playing with the third team group exclusively.
The offensive tackle position is a problem outside of Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, and Dennis Kelly in my opinion. Austin Pasztor was victimized all night by Eagles edge rusher Daeshon Hall and Tyler Marz had some really rough moments as well. Frankly, Kevin Pamphile is probably this team’s fourth best tackle at the moment. That makes the health of Kelly and Conklin paramount to this team’s success over the first four games.
The battle for the right guard spot will continue to rage on. We saw both Pamphile and Douglas get reps with the first team this week in practice. I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen the Levin at center with Jones at guard combination with the ones as much, but I still think the team likes Levin quite a bit. It will be interesting to see how the reps are doled out in the preseason game and whether one of these guys can start to emerge as a clear favorite.